Things that will Save You from the Sky When It’s Falling

By Tina Manzer

“Death spiral” and “apocalypse” are being used to describe retail right now, but it’s not about you. Specialty toy stores are not the same brick-and-mortar beasts as Ralph Lauren and Macy’s. Unlike them, you never said, “Build [a whole lot of] it and they will come.” Instead, you created unique locations with individual personalities; imbued with friendliness, joyfulness, warmth, brains, convenience and nuance – traits missing in stores that will close.

About Macy’s, a retail professor at Syracuse University observed, “It would be gratifying to see the company paying more attention to the in-store experience … as such, these department store locations offer little allure for the consumer.”

Your store’s allure potential is extremely high, and in terms of “in-store experiences,” our industry invented them. They may save you from your biggest adversary, what The Atlantic calls, “the relentless march of Amazon and other online retail companies.”

In the age of Amazon, a positive shopping experience is a brick-and-mortar store’s best defense; one that department stores failed to prepare. Maybe they didn’t think about “experience” the right way, suggests Jeremy Bergstein, of retail consultants The Science Project. They didn’t consider their “ownable qualities.”

What are yours? Look at them today but instead of using your lens, use your customers’. Here is what you should see.

The will to adapt, change and improve

Chain Store Age (of all places!) says everything going on now with retail “is about adaption and new creation. It’s about overcoming challenges, but it’s also about capitalizing on new opportunities, unlocking new synergies and cross-platforming promotions.

“Retail isn’t dying, it’s elevating to a new level,” continued Dave Cheatham, president of Velocity Retail Group. “Just because bell bottom jeans aren’t in fashion anymore doesn’t mean pants are going away! There is a growing recognition that, for retailers to flourish and reach their full potential, online needs in-line and brick-and-mortar needs bits and bytes.”

Omnichannel is one way to compete with online stores, if you can overcome the technology, payment and reporting challenges it currently presents. Omnichannel customers spend an average of 4 percent more every time they shop in the store, and 10 percent more online than single-channel customers. The number goes up with each channel (mobile, app, desktop browsing) they use.

Not just good customer service. Remarkable service.

Good service has become wallpaper – it doesn’t get noticed, says Jeff Mowatt, customer service strategist and best-selling author. “Today’s customers only notice two types of service: poor, and remarkable. They need to be so impressed with your service that they’re motivated to remark about it.”

A uniquely curated product selection

“Offering a vast array of products to shoppers is no longer considered helpful,” says Mowatt. “If today’s customers want to explore choices, they can do an internet search and be instantly underwhelmed.”

Too many choices do not lead to a sale, they lead to decision fatigue, he says. “This is where your employees can really stand out. Their role is to analyze customer needs, explore which options are best, and present two or three candidates in the simplest fashion.”

An experience destination

Take birthday parties, for instance. “Statistics show that a family with three children has a birthday party to attend at least every other weekend,” notes Christine Osborne of Wonder Works Toys. “They’ll be sure to make their 26 trips a year to your store if you make it easy. Offer them convenience, lots of fun, free gift-wrapping and a smile.”

To help make her store a birthday destination, Christine maintains a birthday registry program, hosts birthday parties, and offers specials to the guest of honor.


As Derek Thompson pointed out in The Atlantic, people make a mistake when they think that what they’re looking at is the final act of a play. Sure, mobile shopping may be transforming retail today, but what happens when self-driving cars enter the picture?

It’s just something to think about.

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