The first big-box retail store I saw close was Circuit City. There was one right next to my college and, only being friends with strange people, everyone I knew was talking about the weird stuff you could buy during their going-out-of-business sale. (How many display shelves does a dorm room need?)
Each year it seems one more business is added to the Retail Extinction list. In just the past couple years The BonTon, Sears, Kmart, and Toys R Us all declared bankruptcy, and not the kind where you just restructure debt and move forward like nothing happened.
As they exist now, each of those brands is shadow of what they once were. They’ve lost contracts, closed most locations, and left holes in the malls they once occupied.
So what did they do wrong? Well, you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who had shopped at one of these stores in the years leading up to their closing. It didn’t help that the management at each was, out of touch and out of date.
In reality though, how can retail stores compete? During one day of work I can count nearly a dozen Prime trucks zipping by. I’d say they pass at a rate of one per hour during the holidays. How can so many people be ordering so much “stuff” and yet, not visiting stores?
When asked, you probably say, “I can get a better price online,” but luxury brands can tell you, price isn’t everything. There is an experience to shopping in person. You can feel the weight, quality, and get a better sense of a product when it’s there in your hands. It’s why people go into BestBuy to check out appliances before getting them off Amazon. Couldn’t retail stores have focused on The Experience to save their business?
In my opinion, the one thing that retail stores can do better than an online store is organize events. They have a physical space that they’re already paying for so why not? Some stores like Michaels already do this by offering classes, but you could take the idea further than that.
Imagine a toy store that was also a daycare, or an electronics store that hosted video game competitions. With our culture shifting towards transient populations, especially during college and early career years, it seems like a great way for a company to fill the gap that we have in our communities. After all when you move to a new city, it’s difficult to find where some of those things are. If they were as easy to find as a McDonalds then perhaps more people would get involved in their community, and more importantly, be happy.
Research has shown time and time again that being social (in real life, not online) is what makes us happy. It’s not the stuff we buy, though retailers would love to make you think that. And as social media networks have shown us, fostering a healthy sense of community is nearly impossible to do online. Perhaps these insights have floated around a board room once or twice, but if retail stores are to survive, I think building communities could be the strategic advantage they need.