Right before the holiday madness, I toured a retail “lab” at Mall of America where products can be ordered only through Amazon, previewed the brick-and-mortar space of an apparel brand that is going out of its way to avoid being known as a store, and bought a TV through the Target app (scary how easy it is to spend hundreds of dollars by twitching a thumb), then drove to the store and had it delivered to me while I waited in the car.
Remember when the big retail story of the holiday season was shoppers camping out in the Best Buy parking lot? We’re well past those days, which is great news for your Thanksgiving dinner. As eclectic as these three recent retail moments may seem, they point to one prevailing trend: experience. Virtually every brand is thinking about it today, and if not, they’re probably headed the way of recent casualties like the Bon Ton Stores and Brookstone. (If only Brookstone had hooked up iPads to those beloved chair massagers so customers could place orders while they relaxed).
From event-driven spaces to convenient pick-up at big-box stores, making connections is the name of the game. Here in the Twin Cities, we have a front-row seat to some of the latest experiments.
GH Lab: After more than a century of product reviews, Good Housekeeping is trying retail. Mall of America’s specialty leasing team challenged GH to think beyond its pages, and two years later, the Lab is open for the holiday season, featuring 40 products, from vacuum to faucet, that have earned the Good Housekeeping Seal. The products are not all that new or exciting—think: Olay Regenerist cream—but what’s compelling here is the content: knowing that Olay, at $25, is GH’s best tested skin cream. Convinced? You’ll need the Amazon app to buy GH Lab products. Every item on display features a code that customers can scan with their smartphones to add to their Amazon cart; purchases will be delivered straight to shoppers’ homes. Will customers be annoyed that they can’t use a regular old credit card or take items with them? Will anyone under 40 recognize the GH Seal? I’m fascinated to see how it works.
Target: The urban dweller who can’t carry big packages on the subway; the person who doesn’t want to be bothered shopping for basics: Target is thinking about their needs, and probably has a new service to deliver their goods with “ease and joy”—its new mantra. While store sales grew 4.9 percent in Target’s second quarter this year, the Minneapolis retailer reported 41 percent growth in digital sales, crediting the differentiated shopping experiences it is creating through technology (for some analysis of physical store sales at Target and Best Buy, see The Fine Print). As Target’s publicity team was out touting services like same-day delivery in advance of the holidays, New York reporters had trouble wrapping their heads around the rationale behind “drive-up,” which allows shoppers to order through the Target app and drive up to have their purchases brought out. Clearly, they’ve never been held hostage in a minivan by a sleeping toddler. Drive-up is Target’s highest-rated fulfillment service, the company reports. That human touch is what differentiates Target from Amazon. The hometown retailer is wise to focus on not only improving store experience, but using its stores—there’s a Target within 10 miles of 75 percent of the U.S. population—as a community hub for what is now referred to as “last-mile delivery.”
Love Your Melon Studio: Fans of this digital-first charitable brand lined up on Washington Avenue two and a half hours before the studio opened on its first day in late September. LYM believes scarcity is the way to make retail exciting, so its North Loop space will be open only for special events like product launches. That has some passersby scratching their heads, but consider this: LYM sold $40,000 worth of hats on opening day. The studio will be open on Black Friday and the week before Christmas. For future shopping days? “Stay tuned to our social media,” they said.
Seems the more technology integrates with shopping, the more brands end up steering us to stores.