When last we checked in with industry vet Dan Hodges, it was in the pre-COVID era of last September and he had just launched the latest version of his latest venture Retail Store Tours into New York City to coincide with Advertising Week.
The tours -- you know, actual, physical, up-close-and-personal ones -- had already taken root in key retail innovation markets, including China.
Nearly a year -- and one pandemic -- later, Hodges’ venture might seem DOA, but as it turns out, it’s actually become more vital than ever. That’s because brick-and-mortar retail is one of the categories most affected by the age of social distancing, and as it turns out, it has also become one of the most innovative due to necessity.
Hodges' solution was to launch the World Retail Forum and use it as a platform to begin sharing how leading retailers across the globe are transforming their physical -- and digital -- space to adapt to life after the pandemic.
Not surprisingly, Hodges' early spade work in China is paying off in, well, spades.
“China is 90 days ahead of us,” Hodges explains, adding: “So we began by getting retailers in the U.S. on the phone with retailers from China to see what they could learn from how they were adapting.”
While markets different by culture, business practices, consumer behavior -- and yes, even epidemiology -- Hodges understood they also have many things in common. Or at the very least, that retailers in one market could learn and adapt their own solutions based on what retailers in other markets were doing.
The first forum launched in March during the height of the pandemic overseas and just as it was accelerating in the U.S. To date, Hodges has hosted 40 live events, albeit not in person, but on Zoom.
To date, Hodges has hosted 1,000 participants from 50 countries, including some of the most senior retail managers, on what he describes as one part “news report” and another part “TED talk” about the retail “concerns of the week.”
This week’s forum -- a summit on how small businesses are adapting -- will take place Tuesday at 9am (EST).
On Tuesday, September 15, you can “visit” the “most innovative grocery story in China” with Xin Yue Hu of T11 Supermarkets.
Retail may be Hodges’ latest gig, but I’ve known him for decades as one of the smartest media industry strategists, so I asked him what was the biggest takeaway from 40 weeks of forum sessions that relate to media, and to be frank, I was a little surprised by his answer.
“Retailers are becoming broadcasters,” he told me, adding that they are beginning to utilize live streaming events as a way to showcase their physical spaces and products as content that will attract and appeal to consumers.
“Right now, about 5% of retailers are setting up streaming services,” he estimates, adding that the content is more like CVC or Home Shopping Network circa 1980s than the kind of in-store programming big retailers like Walmart have been developing vis a vis Walmart TV. “
Hodges says he is trying to coin a term to describe the new manifestation, and so far, the best he has come up with is “Shopanywhere,” and that’s because the format is just emerging and still evolving.
“It’s like QVC mobilized on a global basis,” he explains, adding: “It’s like smartphones and advertising in 2006. People are asking, 'How does that work? How do you put a banner on a phone'?"
Hodges offered for us to check back in a couple of months to see how the category and the new blurred physical and digital formats are evolving, so stay tuned for another RTBlog sometime in the near future.