It’s About Having a Good Frame

How Brick & Mortar Evolve

Apple Store San Francisco ©Francesco Stagno 2017

I can remember the first suit I had tailored. It wasn’t a very expensive suit. I was extremely self conscious because I wasn’t sure how I would look. The tailor was in his 60’s and had been working in the business for a very long time. He could sense my awkwardness as he measured, chalked and pinned his way around me. When I twitched a bit too much he stood up and with a smirk on his face said, “Look, it isn’t about the suit; it’s about having a good frame.” With a wink he went back to work.

Maybe it was my awkwardness, or the change in the air as I grasped the value in his words; whatever the reason, that moment has stuck with me over the years. When I get a bit too hung up on what could be a superficial detail, I find myself turning to it.

The idea of having a good frame is one that keeps popping up in my head as I continually read that brick and mortar retail is going away. I’m not buying this idea. Alarmists take cover, you’re not going to like this: brick and mortar is evolving, not dying. Yes, stores are closing, companies are filing for bankruptcy. But wasn’t there some guy who said some thing about evolution being survival of the fittest? Yeah, I pulled a Darwin reference there, and it’s valid.

The stores that saw digital shopping culture coming, are hanging in there. They too, are changing, but they were better prepared for the“overnight” shift to eCommerce. They have been building their frames for years.

And are we really saying it was overnight? Customers have never asked for long lines, complicated return policies or hoops to jump through — in the entire history of commerce — so why is anyone shocked that the ease of shopping online now suits a vast majority? One spanning demographics and social strata? The great online CX that is driving growth for so many pure play offerings, has been built on the ethos and practice of brands that have always put the customer first.

eCommerce is absolutely affecting brick and mortar stores. It is making them recognize that personalized, highly relevant, autonomous, intuitive and engaging experiences are what consumers want. Yes, autonomous and engaging mean opposite things, but brick and mortar growth will depend on the blending and understanding of those two concepts.

Mixed with AI and online to offline analytics, social data mining and personalized targeting, brick and mortar stores should be able offer the exact IRL experience every, individual customer wants. INDIVIDUAL CUSTOMER. Not every customer in the general sense; that is clearly a mindset that leads to disaster.

So what does the brick and mortar store do? Consumers do not need to understand roadmaps, infrastructure or brand strategy to expect their favored retailers to engage them like the earliest adopters of tech have.

Customers want what they want and they want their brands to deliver just like their phones do, in the touch of a button. So the physical store needs to be drilling down into their core customer. Finding the general characteristics and assessing what digital strategy, what platforms and pieces are needed to increase their shopping on foot. Is it smart mirrors, omni channel fulfillment and returns? Is it coupons, or consultative appointments?

These new functionalities need to fit frames that are already there. Is your brand like Ted Baker, leaning towards bespoke styling, tightly fit, and elite? If so, put your digital spend into things that build on your brands lifestlye attributes.

That term, lifestyle is not just a buzz word, but a consumer trigger that luxury brands have long since understood. The concept has devolved in some ways. Many believe that if you “self-label” your brand as a being lifestyle driven that it is, in fact, just that. However, that just isn’t the case. If something is merely part of a lifestyle, it can’t just be a player in the space of that consumer’s life. A true lifestyle brand is essential to that consumer.

Lifestyle brands present their bona fides, then they have a very high level of consumer loyalty. The kind of loyalty that is earned, over time, by a company that begins to be personified — personalized. While this is absolutely true for the luxury market, affordable brands have seen this too. Athletic brands and box stores have their subset of loyalists. This group identifies with the campaigns that stir those personal connections. Continuing that experience into the store, not just on a screen is the key to brick and mortar survival.

The silver lining is the rapid pace at which [luxury] retail executives are adapting. The pace at which the C-Suite is reorganizing to merge departments and personnel, creating a culture of thinking around new methods of marketing and defining new customer experience expectations. Brick and mortar will survive. It will live on, in various ways, with the online support of eCommerce, social and digital marketing strategy and most directly, with the analytics of these efforts.

The days of being an anonymous and generically defined persona, the “ideal customer” for a brand, are over. There are so many great brands and companies with amazing frames to build upon and I can’t wait to see what they look like with a new suit.

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