The world has been disrupted — and only now are we starting to fully comprehend the scale of that disruption. Over the last few weeks, we’ve talked a lot about things like remote work, but what about the state of retail? The retail experience is about to get a full makeover, which opens up some new and interesting opportunities for the general shopper.
Most states have begun the process of reopening, but they are doing so with stringent restrictions on retail and restaurants. The biggest ones refer to capping the number of people in-store at any given time. Retailers are encouraging people to buy online and pick up their orders curbside. I think this model could open the door for a more personalized shopping experience in the coming months and years ahead.
Over the last few years we witnessed the retail experience change as the result of innovators like Apple and Tesla creating clean, stark retail environments that were all about a hands-on, customizable experience without requiring large volumes of inventory. I can see retailers like Banana Republic and Gap taking the same stance in the near future.
This past weekend I went out to buy a new bike, and the local bike store was only taking appointments — no walk-ins. I then went to check out car dealers. I noticed there were actually a lot of people at the dealers, but they were also all there by appointment. The buying experience is quickly becoming a planned experience, with stores personalizing these appointments for the person who scheduled.
Appointment shopping allows four massive benefits to retailers. First and foremost, it allows them to reopen and reengage with their customers.
Second, if someone schedules an appointment, that’s a strong signal of intent to purchase. You know the time spent with them is likely to result in a sale — usually in a larger sale per customer.
Third, you don’t need as much inventory onsite, so you can (unfortunately) pare back your staffing requirements, which cuts down on overhead and increases your margin.
Lastly, and most disruptive, you don’t need as large a retail footprint. I live in the East Bay town of Walnut Creek, California and we have a nice downtown area with lots of large stores. Each of these could dramatically reduce their footprint, increasing the volume of options in that downtown area while creating more of an appointment-oriented culture.
This model of appointment shopping is interesting because it creates artificial demand. Artificially stimulating demand can be a boon for retailers. You may have walk-by traffic that looks in the window and goes home to do their online shopping, while others will do their online browsing, then head to the store by appointment for sizing and final purchases. It also offers a chance for people to see more diversity of retailers without those retailers being hamstrung by huge investments in real estate.
Appointment shopping has always been available in larger department stores — typically only to larger-size purchasers or to an affluent audience. The leveling-out of the shopping experience could make this model available to everyone while increasing the overall accessibility of some stores in that local retail environment.
Why should stores pay many thousands of dollars a month in rent when they only need 50% of the space for appointment shoppers? The commercial space owner can easily segment out the space and reduce the footprint for each tenant, while generating additional income in the long run. You can even make some spaces available for pop-up shops or local craftspeople who could never afford the larger spaces in the past, but now could gain access to people in this new model.
One of the threads I’ve seen emerge from COVID19 is the rebirth of the community atmosphere that was dominant in traditional America. This feels very much in line with that trend: local retailers interwoven with larger, national brands because of the lower costs to maintain a smaller commercial footprint.
Maybe this is just the shot in the arm the retail world needs to compete with a totally digital-centric retail experience?