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  • Bruce Vierck

IMAGINE: The state of post-pandemic retail

Imagine you live on a planet where on-line shopping and home delivery have always existed; and you are chartered with the task of inventing an altogether new and novel concept called a physical retail store. Without the constraint of legacy systems or the burden of long-held retail orthodoxies — a completely clean slate — what would you create? That’s a question all marketers with a presence in brick-and-mortar should be asking themselves right now.


For purposes of this discussion, let’s agree to a couple of assumptions. One, we’ll get through this scourge. We have to, and we will. And marketers who use this “down time” to plan for a new future will be the beneficiaries of post-pandemic growth. So this is not about assuming physical spaces will be toxic forever; it’s about accepting that we will come out the other end and being ready with new ways of appealing to people who just got a major wake-up call. Two, while digital integration and omni-channel harmonization will (of course) be part of the answer, that’s not what this post is about. Others can carry that banner, and frankly, harmonizing what was never that good to begin with can only take you so far. Instead, this is about encouraging retailers and brand marketers to reach deeper.


The fact is, physical retail has been lazy. Research consistently shows that people like shopping but don’t like stores. There’s a growing chasm between expectations for shopping experiences, and reality. Our digital life has trained us to expect our needs to be anticipated, our work lessened, our frustrations removed, and our higher level need states addressed. Physical retail’s efforts to respond to these new expectations have been baby steps at best.


The best of today’s stores can only lay claim to enabling comfortable, aesthetically-pleasing, mildly engaging shopping. The worst still line up products like soldiers on shelves and leave the dirty work of de-selecting to you. In all cases, it’s about selling you something first, and addressing your human-ness second. The self-serving nature of this interaction is not lost on shoppers — “Now that I’ve told you about me, what do you think about me”?

We need to flip the script. A little dose of quarantining has convinced people that maybe you can live just fine without going into stores. And so the question for marketers is, what’s the case you will make to your target consumers to forego myriad other options and commit to you a precious portion of their limited discretionary time? Remember, these are people that have been untethered from old-fashioned provisioning models that require driving, parking, seeking, deciding, buying, collecting, driving, unpacking; and who now have a renewed appreciation for human connection and an amplified yearning for meaning.


I believe the answer is not about attaching a little experience to your selling proposition, but attaching your selling proposition to big, life-relevant experiences. Experiences that sit near the top of Maslow’s hiearchy, not the bottom like they do now.


The answer is different for every brand and every retailer, but for sake of initiating conversation with any Linkedin-ers willing to jump in:

  • Have you heard of the Human Library? It’s a traveling event that allows you to “check out” not books but people who are gay, vegan, atheist, autistic and other misunderstood or marginalized groups. It helps to overcome bias using the power of face-to-face dialogue. Could a lifestyle marketer build upon this to create a new type of retail experience?

  • Could beauty marketers use their spaces to more strongly support women’s issues, perceptions of “beauty”, or perhaps even cross-religion ecumenism?

  • Could one of the great sports brands make retail spaces be places where people come together as a team and hack together solutions that benefit their community?

  • Could retail be a place where conversation is enabled and walls of misunderstanding are broken down? A place to learn something, to help someone or to be challenged?

  • And, yes, where we sell something, too?

Technology, pandemic and societal upheaval have put a foot on the gas pedal of retail transformation. Every marketer with a presence in brick-and-mortar should be starting now to imagine new ways of leveraging the power of this old marketing channel that is so uniquely situated at the intersection of people, products and physical space.


What are you doing to flip the script? I’d love to start a conversation.


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