Thanks to the growth of online shopping and digital store fronts, the future of brick-and-mortar retail was already in question prior to the pandemic. Then came the lockdowns that were the proverbial nail in the coffin for many shops, leaving a slew of “For Lease” signs in their wake. It wasn’t just small Mom & Pop shops that took the hit either; stalwart high street giants were laid low alongside their smaller companions, victims of the pandemic.
According to S&P Global Market Intelligence, there were 52 announced retail bankruptcies in 2020 in the US, including well-known players like shopping center anchor store JCPenney and Men’s Warehouse parent company Tailored Brands. For these reasons and more, it’s not hard to understand why many people might be concerned for the future of retail shopping in general, and shopping centers specifically.
Fortunately, retailers are resilient bunch. Although brick-and-mortar stores have inarguably suffered due to the pandemic, the most agile and adaptable retailers continue to grow and gain market share by updating their practices to leverage the latest available technologies and create a retail shopping experience that can safely challenge the convenience of online shopping.
Transforming Retail Spaces for Modern Customers
After the turmoil of 2020, JCPenney ultimately managed to exit bankruptcy through a joint purchase by Simon Property Group and Brookfield Properties. The company then began an almost year-long hunt for a new CEO, ultimately selecting former Levi Strauss Americas president Marc Rosen. While speaking to Retail Wire magazine, then interim chief of JCPenney Stanley Shousah remarked that one of the reasons Rosen was selected was because of his experience with e-commerce and proven success with the omnichannel transformation of the Levi’s, Denizens, and Dockers brands.
JCPenney’s fall demonstrates the importance of early adoption of new technologies. There may be no way to know for sure, but it’s easy to imagine the retail giant may have found more success had they not lagged behind in adapting to the realities of a new, tech-savvy generation of consumers. The fact that Rosen was chosen to revitalize the company because of his experience in digital retail and selling across all channels speaks volumes about the future relationship between technology, consumers, and retailers.
Rosen’s appointment also demonstrates the company’s recognition that the line between online and in-person shopping is continuing to blur. Although retail shopping originally differed from online shopping in many different ways, including immediate availability of goods and the personal touch that only real-life sales associates can provide, the fact is that the two are now intrinsically linked. Most of the time customers research their planned purchases online first. They check prices and reviews and delivery options on Amazon. They google you, visit your website before calling, and maybe even search for other local stores. Continuing to think of in-person and online shopping as two separate sales modes is antiquated. The modern consumer views both as one and the same.
This is especially true now that at least some of the magic of in-person shopping can be replicated online. For example, connecting sales associates in stores with shoppers browsing online using Salesfloor Connect gives customers the opportunity to ask questions or get personalized recommendations. New technologies that facilitate virtual shopping and clienteling also offer consumers more than just convenient shopping from the comfort of their home; they present an experience consumers can’t get from simple online stores. Consumers can browse aisles at their leisure, inspect products, and add them to a cart with the click of a button. Properly configured to support exceptional online customer service, these experiences not only improve online conversions and reduce cart abandonment but also drive foot traffic and in-store shopping.
Rosen’s appointment and experience with selling along all channels is also evidence JCPenney recognizes the growing value of offering omnichannel shopping to consumers.. Omnichannel shopping represents the strongest response to online shopping and the pandemic for retailers. Because they embrace all purchasing routes, omnichannel retailers can better meet evolving consumer habits by offering them the shopping experiences they demand, regardless of whether the purchase is online or in-store.
Don’t mistake simple online shopping for omnichannel shopping though. The omnichannel experience is far more than just selling both instore and online; that would be multichannel shopping and even though it’s the foundation of omnichannel shopping, they’re not the same thing. In addition to providing a plethora of purchase options, omnichannel shopping enables multiple browsing options, easy communication between associates and clients, and even the most convenient fulfillment choices for customers. It takes all of your sales channels and unifies them into a single, seamless experience that’s more than just a sales funnel; it’s also an opportunity for retailers and associates to build relationships with customers and earn loyalty by providing that special personal shopping touch, even from afar.
The Shopping Center of the Future
Retail stores clearly aren’t the only businesses feeling the pinch of the pandemic. Shopping center operators have also watched their revenues wither as tenants defaulted on rent. Many still haven’t fully recovered, and some likely never will.
That doesn’t mean mall operators aren’t proactively addressing their problems though. Fortunately, shopping centers were already contending with declining numbers prior to the pandemic as well. That may not sound like a good thing, but as the retail shopping sector continues to evolve, many malls have pivoted to see the challenges of the pandemic as opportunities to accelerate the revitalization of their ailing sector. This includes everything from adapting spaces for more health, technology, and research efforts to refocusing the mall to become entertainment and lifestyle experience destinations. In fact, in their aptly-title report, The Future of the Mall, Deloitte specifically mentions “…creating a multi-purpose environment that offers extensive leisure activities as well as other services, like office, residential, and cultural amenities.”
A crucial part of that transformation includes investing in new technologies, another strong recommendation from Deloitte. The famous Mall of America (MoA) is an excellent example of how shopping centers are using new technologies to come back stronger than before. MoA is looking to even the odds between its big-name stores and smaller players with a single online platform that all of their merchants can join to offer goods online. By streamlining the shopping experience and trying to “unify the shopping cart,” Mall of America executives hope to appeal to consumers who would prefer to make a single stop rather than visiting multiple stores.
As customer buying preferences evolve, so too will the need for adapting to those preferences. Shopping centers and retailers with agile technological solutions that offer consumers safer, more convenient shopping solutions along with exceptional online customer service will be best poised to not only weather the (hopefully) last vestiges of the pandemic, but also to respond to future crises and potentially capitalise on new opportunities and consumer trends down the line.
The Future Starts Now
Salesfloor provides retailers with the right tools to connect local store associates with omnichannel customers and provide exceptional shopping experiences today and wherever the future takes them. Find out how you can provide personal customer service to your customers wherever they are shopping by getting in touch today.