Brian Walker

Trying to read our DNA is like trying to understand software code – with only 90% of the code riddled with errors. It’s very difficult in that case to understand and predict what that software code is going to do. – Elon Musk

The DNA of retail shops adapt and change ever so quickly and slowly to engage a customer using ‘time well spent’ as the primary motivation to visit. The current COVID pandemic is a small window into the ways the human experience changes due to shop design, layout and customer experience, showing that adaptation drives the retailer agenda.

Pushing product down a pipe, the main weapon of retailers for many thousands of years is being superseded by customer pull strategies.

Today’s physical shop is not really a shop with the way we have historically interpreted them to be, rather they should (must) be a cog in the omnichannel wheel of a forward-thinking retailer, the customer path to purchase at the first (1st) stage of the journey is preceded by insights fuelled brand communications strategy that invites consumers to touch the brand well before the desire, if present, to visit the physical shop.

The post-visit to the shop stage (3rd stage) is the invitational stage – to take part in the loyalty, referral, other related training such as teaching about products and events based strategies.  In today’s COVID19 influenced world, webinars, podcasts and other platforms can all produce this brand invitation for a customer to partake in all the attributes that this branded offer can deliver. The use of AI, digital interfaces, CRM developments all create the mediums for personalised, bespoke and in some cases predictive conversations to take place between retailer and customer, pre and post shop visit.

Accordingly the role of the physical shop changes or needs to change exponentially, the product on shelves and not much more will have to by definition evolve. Evolution to an offer that provides a necessary alternative to ordering the same product online, giving a reason to carry home rather than be delivered home.

Where and how will the shop itself evolve is the second (2) and central stage of this approach.

It is also the sharpest expression of a retailer’s point of difference, the opportunity to showcase the expertise, the uniqueness and where possible the innovation of a retailer’s offer. To buffer against the downward margin spiral of the price and range domain increasingly that of an online play allowing retailers to genuinely be omnichannel in its correct and purest form.

It is the human representation of a retailer’s brand, ultimately less about selling more about engagement and consummation.

Creating reverence and scarcity in the specialty retailer’s repertoire can only happen in the shop environment, After all, a brick is a brick, however, a limited edition handcrafted Scandinavian bespoke designed weight bearing ornament is another thing entirely.

Interaction before the transaction in the human customer experience. Trust is really only built in this way.

Clients and in many cases, our global retailers by way of example are utilising part of their shop to engage in lifting the differentiating attributes of their brand:

  • Teaching customers in the engagement of their product via training/education (although supplemented in time of COVID through digital).
  • Educating and interacting with digital within categories.
  • Extending the hours to engage customer participation – such as LuluLemon and wellness/yoga.
  • Inviting designers/authors/creators in for VIP events.

Whichever it is for a specific category – it is the thinking about space in an entirely and interconnecting manner with your branded point of difference that matters.

The gauntlet also evolves for our shopping centre asset owners and designers – If the only driver for asset value is rental yield predicated upon sales (MAT) or sales per square metre then we head towards an intersection with an online retail offering rather than differentiation.

For the purposes of this blog, I haven’t spoken about shops also having the extrinsic value as the natural distribution point in a network planning capacity – ship from store for online deliveries – it’s obviously the best option for many retailers to fulfill true last-mile efficiency in the quickest way where speed to delivery time is a key competitive differentiator.  I will cover that in the next blog.

Brian Walker is the Founder and CEO of Retail Doctor Group, a retail advisory and consultancy group and the Australian elected partner member of the global retail expert’s alliance Ebeltoft Group. To understand more about gearing your retail strategy for a successful rebound and retail deployment email

Have a look at previous articles written by the experts at Retail Doctor Group:

  1. Smart Retailers gear up to thrive post-COVID
  2. The most necessary ingredient for strategy
  3. What does the post-Covid-19 retail landscape look like?