Retail Execs Discuss The Present And Future Of Brick-And-Mortar At #NRF14

A key topic of discussion at NRF 2014 was how retailers can successfully transform the brick-and-mortar experience to make it more relevant and compelling for consumers.

During keynote session, titled: Reimagining Main Street — How Brick-And-Mortar Retail Will Thrive In The 21st Century, retail executives and thought leaders from across categories shared their best practices and initiatives for the year ahead.

The discussion, which was moderated by Sue Herera, Co-Anchor of the CNBC television show “Power Lunch,” featured the following panelists: Rick Caruso, Founder and CEO of Caruso Affiliated; Rebecca Minkoff, Fashion Designer for Rebecca Minkoff; Blake Nordstrom, President of Nordstom; and Candace Nelson, Founder and Pastry Chef for Sprinkles Cupcakes.


{loadposition TSHBAIAA022014} Before the panel discussion kicked off, Caruso shared his thoughts on the current brick-and-mortar experience. Spotlighting effective examples from his company’s array of creations — such as the Grove in Los Angeles — Caruso explained that  to stay competitive and relevant, retailers need to focus first and foremost on their customers.

“We are part of the rebirth of brick-and-mortar retail,” Caruso said. “We are living in a moment of great change, surrounded by exciting technology. It’s easy to get distracted by the relentless conversation around the Internet versus brick-and-mortar. But now more than ever, what we need to do is focus on what has always been and will always be essential to our customer: Creating an experience that’s magical and memorable.”

Supporting this point, Blake said that each Nordstrom property is unique, driving the retailer to stay close to the customer and, most importantly, remain relevant.

“The customer has such terrific choices today,” Blake said. “Literally at her fingertips is this level of transparency we have never seen before — and it’s accelerating. So vendors, retailers and mall developers, we’re all striving to stay as close as we can to the customer to make sure we’re in lock-step with her expectations.”

One way Sprinkles Cupcakes stays close to the customer is by continuously innovating and developing new ways to “wow” them, according to Nelson. For example, the company implemented curbside delivery so on-the-go customers can have orders quickly delivered to their cars.

“The transaction time is not long [at Sprinkles],” Nelson explained. “We’re basically giving someone a cupcake and they’re usually taking them out to eat them. But within that short period of time, we want the customer to feel pampered and cared for.” 

Many luxury brands and retailers are focusing more on service and making their companies more accessible to consumers. Rebecca Minkoff has become a public persona in the fashion world and is generating brand awareness by building relationships with customers at in-person events and through social media.

“With these in-store experiences, the customer is so excited to meet you, they walk away with a smile and it’s that extra step that I’m taking to go visit them,” Minkoff said. “I think this customer loves the human interaction and to be able to meet me, and for that reason, they’re more loyal.”

The Cross-Channel Challenge

The key to a successful brick-and-mortar experience, noted Caruso, is to create a highly social, sensory and enjoyable experience. “We’re trying to create this social connection that becomes part of their life and then when you do that that’s where they gravitate to go to shop. When you put them in a happier state of mind, they spend more.”

A notable challenge for retailers that have a brick-and-mortar and online business is balancing the experience, and keeping it consistent, regardless of the channel .

“It’s so clear to us how our customer wants to interact with Nordstorm,” Blake said. “The retail industry uses multichannel and omnichannel and so we have the challenge to break down the silos and make it very integrated and seamless in terms of how the customer wants to get information, availability, price or buying and return. Trying to do that and execute it well is really the challenge.”

One area where the brick-and-mortar store can still thrive is customer service. Minkoff explained that although the online channel provides an endless amount of information, consumers still crave feedback from brand experts.

“What’s beautiful about a retail experience is you go in, it’s more edited for you, and you can have that one-on-one personal connection,” Minkoff said. “Whether it’s a store associate or a stylist, this person is helping guide you in that experience, and it’s nice to have. As humans, we crave that hospitality.”

The Role Of Innovation

The traditional retail experience of visiting a store, finding a product and completing a purchase can quickly become a tedious journey.

Technology, however, can turn the “norm” upside down, creating a completely new and refreshing brand interaction.

By partnering with eBay, Rebecca Minkoff implemented a digital storefront, enabling customers to shop 24 hours a day. “We like to constantly push and pioneer in technology,” Minkoff said. The brand also opened holiday pop-ups in New York and California to give shoppers a taste of the brand’s brick-and-mortar stores, which are expected to open later this year.

“We thought: As we’re gearing up for retail, we want to show how we imagine the world of Rebecca Minkoff,” Minkoff said. “It was a great way for us to say this is the brand; this is the vision. It also was a way for us to learn what works and what doesn’t as we open retail stores.”

Innovation also is central to the evolution of Sprinkles Cupcakes. “You have to constantly be investing in listening to your customers,” Nelson said. Sprinkles Cupcakes takes this innovation concept to the extreme by “embracing the crazy,” she added. “We like to make sure all of our employees offer their ideas — they’re always welcome — and we always listen to our customers.”

To generate buzz around its brand, Sprinkles Cupcakes created a cupcake ATM and placed them across the country. Consumers swipe their credit card in the machine, and a pre-packaged, fresh cupcake is delivered to them via robotic arm.

“We thought it was a great idea, but we never thought people would line up at 2 a.m. to use it,” Nelson said. “It has been amazing. It has completely refreshed our business and re-energized traffic to our brick-and-mortar stores. Marketing is easy when you’re giving people something to talk about.”

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