Real Estate Weekly
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Little guys thinking big as retail landscape shifts again

By Melissa Sievwright, vice president of marketing, Levin Management

The re-invention of retail is underway, driven by technology advances and new shopper preferences.

The impact of mobile and online are obvious. Less quantifiable is the attitudinal shift from acquisition to experience among consumers.

Millennials and Baby Boomers alike are opting to invest in experiences over things. Think travel, live performance, hobbies, events, fitness – instead of fashion, jewelry, footwear and furniture.

What is a retailer to do? As a regional leader in retail real estate, Levin Management is seeing changes in store design and service.

Even more intriguing is the breakthrough ideas put into play by some major retail re-inventors. They are melding lifestyle with shopping and giving consumers a reason to step into the store.

Consider Staples, which this year launched communal workspaces carved out of three suburban Boston stores with surplus space.

And then there’s Target’s Open House, located beneath its store in San Francisco’s Metreon Center, featuring a walk-through house of acrylic panels filled with interconnected products from the Internet of Things.

When it comes to physically engaging the shopper, Reebok’s FitHub is the champ. “Gear, Classes and Camaraderie” is the brand promise, and Reebok is delivering in an over-the-top in every way style.

Samsung 837, “where tech and culture collide,” is the electronic giant’s 40,000 s/f tech playground in the heart of New York City’s Meatpacking district.

But it does not take a mega budget to reinvent. Independents and small chains that are ready to get creative can transform retail, too. Many of the tenants in the shopping centers managed by Levin are starting to explore the possibilities.

The connection between small businesses and their communities is a powerful one, and something that cannot be duplicated online. People are interested in what’s going on locally and prize locally-sourced products.

Retailers who want to stand out are tapping into this interest and partnering with their closest “neighbors” to bring shoppers into their stores for events and special promotions.

Keeping the hyperlocal connection in mind, re-inventors with small budgets are turning their stores into destinations. Popular templates include:

  • Samplings, with food and beverages from local sources;
  • Art shows, with displays by local artists and crafts people;
  • After-hours shopping, with special openings for VIP customers;
  • Product demonstrations;
  • Holiday tie-ins (not just in December), with a special day in every month;
  • Classes, featuring everything from crafts to accessorizing;

Charity, with events that benefit organizations (the more local the better).

Whether a retailer is large or small, they must provide a compelling and relevant customer experience (“shopper-tainment”) if they want to re-invent. That means thinking of themselves as more than a supplier of goods or services.

The big players provide great examples. Staples is a source of business support, not just a place to buy supplies. Reebok is not just about gym clothes, it is about a lifestyle.

Following these models, a wine store becomes a source for entertainment ideas. A hair salon becomes a place for relaxation and “me time.” The wine store offers samplings from local caterers on Friday evenings. The nail salon has a free mini-massage day. This is re-invention at its best.

Not surprisingly, social platforms are proving to be the retail re-inventor’s best friend. They are being used to announce in-store experiences and for post-event coverage.

Instagram and Pinterest, since they are so visual, are popular choices. Live broadcasts from events on Facebook’s Livestream and Twitter’s Periscope are trending as well.

These are exciting times for the retail industry for retailers of all sizes.

While the big players may be breaking the boundaries, the creative action – and hyperlocal flavor – we are seeing at the grassroots level is truly inspiring.

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