It’s time for retailers to stop looking at brick-and-mortar like it’s dying. Traditional retail is changing, it’s true – and that has manifested as a fair amount of growing pains – but the perception that physical retail is a sinking ship may be leading merchants astray.
Perhaps it’s better to think of modern retail as a chrysalis. Traditional retail was the caterpillar, inching along slowly but steadily, and somewhere ahead lies the magnificent butterfly of omnichannel, experiential, contextual, and personal retail.
Today, however, it is still very much a space in transition, says Tom Dwyer, CEO of Taylrd – and the early days of transition, at that.
“If you look at the numbers,” said Dwyer, “a massive amount of retail purchases are still being done in person. The shift feels like it happened already, but it’s happening now and will continue to happen.”
That means that retailers with a brick-and-mortar presence don’t necessarily need to give that up for a pure digital model; they just have to transition in line with the rest of the space. Dwyer shared how brands can start to think about doing that, and how Taylrd is already doing so as the menswear company embarks on a U.S. tour in a vintage airstream turned pop-up store.
As retail, eCommerce and brand awareness continue their transformation, Dwyer has three best practices for merchants to keep at the forefront of their minds and strategies.
First, the most critical thing a brand can do is consider its customer before all else. How can customer experience be improved? What do they truly want out of the brand? Dwyer says brands with a multi-channel presence can pull data from their digital channel, apply those insights to better understand the brick-and-mortar customer and improve their experience.
Second, stores must find ways to deliver a personalized experience. Again, said Dwyer, this is an area that could be heavily informed by data from digital avenues, especially if individual customers have a presence on the store’s web and mobile channels – that data could be used to deliver an individualized in-store experience.
Third, merchants must keep an eye on the forefront of technology to assist in marching their digital and physical aspects. Today, Dwyer said, developers are just scratching the surface on augmented and virtual reality (AR and VR), but he expects they could go mainstream in the next five years.
What’s Wrong With Shopping Malls
Dwyer said that a key element of building the brand was considering what men in their 20s wanted out of a shopping experience. As a man in his 20s, he had a few thoughts on the matter.
The problem with shopping malls, from his perspective, was never that they represented a physical experience. He (and many other men) preferred to try things on before buying them. But going to the mall meant parking, navigating crowds, not being able to find the item he wanted, or getting lost in overwhelming department stores.
The problem was never that all of this happened in a building. The problem was that it created a terrible, stressful experience.
Taylrd’s core-value proposition is its highly-tailored fits (hence the name), ranging from standard to slim and fitted in chino pants and button-down shirts – with more categories such as outerwear, underwear, swimwear and knits on the way.
However, it needed to deliver those tailored items to its target audience in a way that the audience wanted to receive them. That meant shopping malls were right out. The company instead chose to focus on fast delivery with easy returns, which fulfilled many of the millennial man’s shopping demands – but it still left him unable to try on articles for fit before committing to them with his wallet.
Smartphones Aren’t The Only “Mobile” Channel
Dwyer said the company always planned to take its products on the road. In fact, it acquired the vintage airstream before even formally launching the company.
Dwyer remembers enlisting a crane to lift the vehicle off the roof of an eight-story Brooklyn building where it had been placed 30 years earlier. The airstream’s former owner said he was replacing the tires the week before Dwyer took it off his hands. As soon as Dwyer hit the highway, all four wheels went spinning away.
Despite this less-than-fortuitous outset, Dwyer remained determined to take his menswear business on the road. There were a few reasons for that, he said.
First, there were the customer benefits: A mobile pop-up shop would enable the brand to show up in different locations that make it more convenient for customers to shop there. Obvious destinations included places like highly-saturated shopping centers and hotels. The company even planned to show up at workplaces so men wouldn’t have to make a dedicated trip to get their new attire.
But there are so many more opportunities than that, said Dwyer. He envisions collaborations with venues and musical acts, with potential for appearances at festivals like South by Southwest. He said that would change the brand from a clothing company to a lifestyle brand and would create spaces where customers could hang out around or inside the airstream.
Shopping doesn’t have to be the only focus of an experience like that, Dwyer added. It becomes much more relaxed and comfortable.
Second, Dwyer said that going mobile opened up doors to collaborate with other brands to increase Taylrd’s in-store offerings and leverage other brands’ clout and customer bases, while also potentially delivering new customers to those brands. After all, a vintage airstream is bound to attract some folks, even if they aren’t necessarily intending to shop for menswear.
From a business perspective, said Dwyer, mobile pop-ups enable Taylrd to establish a presence in various locations. He said the company aims to be in 10 cities by the end of the year. It couldn’t afford to open 10 static brick-and-mortar stores, but this way, Taylrd can beta test locations and easily change tactics if a location isn’t working out.
The bottom line?
“It’s about making more intimate settings that make people feel good about coming into your store,” Dwyer said. “Thanks to eCommerce, people are demanding a better experience – especially guys. Shopping for guys can be rough. Retailers need to ask what their customer wants, and then how to fit what they’re doing to that demand.”