Experience Counts

In retail, as in life, experience is everything. Whether it’s online, on a smartphone or in the store, it really doesn’t make a difference. A bad experience will turn off customers, while a good one will build brand advocates. It’s always been like that, of course. But today’s technology-enabled shoppers have changed the rules of the game by upping the stakes considerably.

The important role experience plays in today’s retail environment is brought home in our annual State of the Industry Report. It’s the centerpiece of this issue, and it couldn’t be more relevant. Or interesting.

Prepared by Interbrand Design Forum, the report is entitled “Experience is Everything,” and it’s focused on the innovative experiences that are redefining retail. I’m happy to say that a good deal of the innovation is occurring on a brick-and-mortar level. It’s not that I have anything against digital retail — I appreciate the convenience and vast inventories of online as much as anyone. But for me, the physical store remains the heart and soul of a brand. It’s where the brand comes to life. And it’s satisfying to see that savvy retailers — both online and traditional — are once again embracing the promise of brick-and-mortar.

What’s so interesting is that e-commerce deserves much of the credit for waking retailers up to the promise of the store experience. The report details both online retailers, including Warby Parker and BaubleBar, that have made the leap to physical retail, and several traditional retailers (Johnny Cupcakes is my fave) that are all, in their own way, challenging the conventional way of doing business. And delighting customers in the process.

And for retailers that are still catching up, the report offers some timely advice, starting with “Forget the Gondolas.” Thinking outside the gondola energizes the brand. Looking at the accompanying photo of a Camper store, it’s hard to disagree.

The State of the Industry Report is full of insights, photos and commentary. It’s a must-read for anyone interested in where retail is heading.

So is the CSA Top 100, our annual listing of the nation’s largest retailers, which is part of the report. The ranking is based on total annual net sales for each company’s most recently completed fiscal year.

The retailers that make up the Top 100 reflect the evolving nature of an industry in which the search for omnichannel integration has become the Holy Grail.

From Walmart with its Scan & Go pilot to Macy’s and its commitment to RFID, retailers are investing in an array of new solutions that allow for more fluid experiences across digital and physical channels. At the same time, they are exploring new formats, new markets and new concepts.

There’s a lot going on in the retail space. And don’t expect things to settle down anytime soon.

mwilson@chainstoreage.com