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Brick and Mortar Retail to See More Ca-Ching this Holiday Season?

Poornima R Apte
December 23, 2019

3 minute read

You’ve heard the drumbeat over and over again: the retail apocalypse is here and malls are slowly going extinct. But brick and mortar is proving the forecasts wrong. If the past year has shown us anything, it’s that physical stores and online shopping can coexist and indeed complement each other. This holiday season will see strong traffic to brick and mortar stores — more than half of shoppers (53%) will shop at department stores according to the National Retail Federation — a move accelerated by three distinct forces:

Gen Z really loves shopping in person

Generation Z, loosely defined by the Pew Research Center as being between the ages of 14-22, loves shopping brick and mortar. A survey from the International Council of Shopping Centers (ICSC) showed that this youngest generation of shoppers prefers shopping in stores versus online, as an impressive 76% said in-store shopping delivered a better experience. The study also notes that Gen Z views shopping as a form of entertainment with friends, not just as a means to purchase goods. While limited access to credit cards might fuel such behavior, an ATKearney report also found that Gen Z views shopping as a stress reliever. Such a shift in preference is good news for brick and mortar.

Pop-up stores add flair

Whether it’s the Candytopia or the ice cream museum pop-up, these here-today-gone-tomorrow stores add a dash of excitement and drama and draw a lot of foot traffic, says Patricia Norins, partner at Blue Butterfly LLC, a strategy consultancy for the retail real estate industry. In an interview for this article, Norins added that digital native brands such as Wayfair especially see the value of a pop-up store location.

Norins says that the rise of pop-ups is a win-win for all parties. Online retailers can test drive a new location without too much capital outlay while consumers in turn get to engage with a brand they might only have seen online. “Celebrities launching pop-ups are also driving excitement,” Norins says. Drake or Gwyneth Paltrow, anyone? “When your friend takes selfies at a striking pop-up store and posts it on social media, FOMO (a fear of missing out) kicks in,” Norins says. It’s all a recipe for traffic to brick and mortar stores.

Experiential retail for the win

Call it experiential retail or retailment. Whether you say potato or potahto, the basic premise is that a dash of theater is a winner. Much like pop-up stores, experiential retail involves hosting some kind of experience or event in the store. That could range from a kitchen appliance store hosting cooking classes to Nike’s Nike Live, which offers members-only access and rotates merchandise every two weeks to sustain interest. The Nike flagship store in New York City even features a Sneaker Bar for styling advice and introduces periodic incentives for New Yorkers to run and exercise. Such a move is also about community creation, instead of a laser-like focus on just selling product.

“Nearly half of consumers attended at least one ‘retailment’ event in the past year,” according a National Retail Federation study in 2018, and that number inches higher (two-thirds) when it factors only Millennials.

Despite the apocalyptic warnings about the downward slide of brick and mortar, in-store shopping is very much alive and thriving. It might sport new avatars in its reinvention but endures this holiday season — and seemingly in the long run.

Poornima Apte
Poornima Apte is an engineer turned award-winning writer who loves literary fiction and collecting clouds. Her proudest cloud acquisition so far has been the Kelvin Helmholtz formation she spotted on a routine Target run. Follow her on Twitter @booksnfreshair.
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