That great wit Homer Simpson, one the most influential court jesters of the past 30 years, had this to say about the habit of drinking adult beverages: “Here’s to alcohol: the cause of, and solution to, all of life’s problems.”
Some retailers might be taking that to heart in this new year as part of the larger and ongoing effort to breathe new life into brick-and-mortar retail — a struggle that has been around almost as long as “The Simpsons” has, in fact.
Here’s the boozy scoop: According to a local report out of Virginia, a bill in the state’s general assembly would open the door for smaller shopping centers to enable consumers there to enjoy open containers of alcohol. “In Northern Virginia, only a handful of shopping centers have active commercial open container licenses, which allow shoppers to purchase alcohol in a restaurant and take it outside to enjoy it while you walk around,” the report said. “These specific developments must sit on at least 25 acres and also must meet a long list of requirements.”
Extending that right to smaller shopping centers has won the approval of local retailers and restaurants, the report added, with the main local trade group saying it would give brick-and-mortar shops “an advantage over the popular online shopping. Customers would have to use specific cups from a restaurant or bar to prove they didn’t just bring the alcohol from home.”
In some cities — Chicago, for instance — consumers can buy beer and wine from inside certain upscale grocery stores and then drink as they go about their shopping (some grocery carts offer cup holders, which, it must be said, also handle coffee). And other retailers are turning to alcohol to increase the appeal of their physical offerings.
Take Walmart. In late 2019, news emerged that the chain would let customers in 2,000 locations in 29 states use the retailer’s pickup service for alcohol purchases. In states including California, Texas and Florida, shoppers can select from a variety of wine and beer options, including regional or local brands. Select locations will also allow for the pickup of spirits, depending on local laws.
The service allows customers to directly search for adult beverages and add them to their cart. Walmart’s personal shoppers will then carefully select each item in the order. During checkout, customers select a window of time they will pick up their order, but if the order includes alcohol, pickup and delivery times may be limited by local law. At the time of pickup, the customer will be required to show valid photo identification verifying that they are at least 21 years of age before receiving the alcohol products in their order.
Alcohol, of course, is not the only way retailers are looking to make their physical locations more attractive. Indeed, retailers are designing brick-and-mortar spaces around experiences to attract and keep customers.
In late 2019, Chinese eCommerce retailer JD.com rolled out its inaugural SEVEN FUN lifestyle space in Galaxy SOHO in Beijing. It is described as “one of a kind in China” and “pioneers a unique combination of dining + drinking + social,” along with daily groceries, according to a post from the company.
The first SEVEN FUN provides consumers with a choice of over 3,500 different items, including baked goods, fresh food, groceries and fresh flowers. It also offers diners 12 eateries that serve international delicacies along with three bars that provide Japanese sake, craft beer and wine. The store also functions as a place for gatherings, and it can be rented as a networking or socializing space.
The concept was created to meet the preferences of working professionals between the ages of 26 and 45 in first-tier cities and provide “not just a space but a lifestyle,” the company stated. It noted in the post that “as global consumers are shifting from going to the store to buy products to going to the store to experience products and buy services, delivering experiences has been essential for retailers to attract and retain consumers.” The company also said the concept “is a destination offering networking and fun, rather than purely a destination to make a purchase.”
Homer Simpson may or may not be right, but here’s something that’s pretty certain: Retailers that provide better consumer experiences in their physical stores will have an edge.