Graeme Simsion recently said, "There's definitely a role for online booksellers, but they can't host events, bring people together and form a personal relationship in the way a brick-and-mortar store and its staff can." Despite nearly two years of covid-induced struggle impacting typical brick-n-mortar retail locations, in general they have rebounded rather well. Don't let the naysayers tell you brick-n-mortar is dead. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Late in 2022, Simon Property Group reported that positive momentum at its malls across the country has been consistent. Occupancy at Simon's U.S. malls and premium outlets was at 94.5% in Sept. 30, 2022, as compared to 92.8% in Sept. 2022. The company said it is on track to achieve pre-covid occupancy in 2023. "The flight towards brick and mortar is real," stated CEO of Simon Property Group, David Simon, while on a call with analysts. He added that new store openings and lease renewals have not slowed down.
Prior to the pandemic, the media was constantly pounding the tune that brick-n-mortar was dying. During the pandemic, they only accelerated that message. Since the pandemic, based on retail figures and shoppers, it is now apparent that retail has not just survived but is doing quite well. But don't let these positive numbers allow you to rest on your successes. Ominous trends are still in place that spell trouble on the horizon for retail businesses unwilling to transform how they conduct business.
Certain changes are already underway as shopping centers and retail businesses adapt to the new demands and shopping styles of consumers. "People continue to really want to go out and experience being in an environment to see, touch and try product," explained Keith Jelinek, a senior managing director at consulting and advisory firm Ankura. As was the case starting a couple of years ago, many shoppers today expect an entertainment-driven and holistic social experience when they visit malls and retail businesses.
The trends are speaking very loudly. To be successful in the future, business owners must do much more than just create and/or sell products and services. In addition to selling products, they must also match compelling products with compelling experiences and emotional settings or feelings. They must not only master the supply chain aspects of running a retail business but they must become able to master the experience and emotional side of the business as well.
How does a business provide those unique experiences not usually found online? At the risk of stating the obvious, one can start with over-the-top customer service. What is over-the-top customer service? It can take the form of many things; among them might be knowing your customers by name. It might be having a database that indicates when birthdays and anniversaries are. It might be working with other local businesses to provide compelling packages and services. It might look like promotions that incentivize repeat in-person visits. It might be as simple as local-only coupons and gift certificates. It might be an e-commerce system that is easy to use and in turn drives future in-store visits and purchases. It might be live local music at various times of the week, creating a social setting, in turn becoming popular while receiving social media attention. The list of ideas that ought to be considered is practically endless.
While no one has all the answers to what makes a business successful, anyone can follow or mimic the path most successful businesses have traveled. It should be noted, being unique in one industry may differ from uniqueness in another industry – you must find that uniqueness that is indeed unique to your industry. Throughout my entire career in marketing and consulting, without any doubt, the most successful businesses have always been those able to create unique experiences for their customers. One thing is sure, businesses that don't find their niche or their unique experience offering will find their struggles increasing in the coming years. To survive, finding that unique experience will be crucial. Don't wait, start building for that unique experience today; your future might well depend upon it.
-- John Newby, of Pineville, Mo., is a nationally recognized publisher, community, business & media consultant, and speaker. He authors "Building Main Street, not Wall Street," a column appearing in 50+ communities. The founder of Truly-Local, dedicated to assisting communities create excitement, energy, and combining synergies with local media to become more vibrant and competitive. His email is: [email protected] The opinions expressed are those of the author.