There’s some argument about whether flagship stores have a place in a retail environment where consumers are locked into the convenience of online shopping, especially since the pandemic. In 2020, Wells Fargo analysts maintained that retail executives are ”admitting that while once a critical marketing vehicle, flagships are no longer a worthwhile drag on profitability.”
But that attitude comes from nearly a quarter century of retailers treating their stores like a brick-and-mortar manifestation of their websites, according to Lee Peterson, executive vice president of thought leadership and marketing at WD Partners, speaking before a National Retail Federation audience last week.
It’s understandable, given consumers’ attitude toward shopping. In a WD Partners survey of 2,500 people, More than 63% said they prefer to shop online. They prioritize ease and convenience, with their top seven reasons for going to a store skewing toward the functional, like trying things on, getting them the same day or making a return. At the bottom were ranked seven more emotional reasons like discovery or fun — which came in last.
“Going shopping is dead,” Peterson said.
The fault lies in our stores
WD’s research found that consumers do appreciate three things about shopping in stores — discovery, inspiration and interaction with associates.
“Stores should not do what websites do. Stores do one thing, websites do another thing, and stores can do things that websites can’t,” he said. “You don't have to go to the store, so you have to want to go to the store.”
Peterson touted several retailers that are successfully leveraging physical locations’ three-dimensional, in-real-life opportunities to create a vibe that he said is difficult if not impossible to achieve online. They include Yeti’s Austin location, Sephora’s Paris flagship, and, in New York, the Petco at Union Square and Crate and Barrel in the Flatiron district.
“Discovery, inspiration, associates, the vibe — this is what gets [people] off the couch and into the store,” he said. “Where’s the love, where’s the vibe, where’s the coolness? It’s not getting them off the couch, because it doesn’t exist.”
Most of the stores featured in Peterson’s presentation have embraced visual merchandising and creative store design that he noted didn’t require expensive build-outs.
“Remember store design?” he said. “And visual merchandising — it’s a lost art.”
Retailers are also under-staffing their stores and under-appreciating their staff, according to Peterson.
“I have two words for every retailer about associates: pay them,” he said. “Pay them, pay them! The more you pay them, the better they will be, that's just the bottom line.”
He quoted Sam Walton, who once said that Main Street retailers could successfully compete with Walmart — not by trying to be Walmart, but by doing what Walmart can’t do. It’s the same with stores versus websites. Stores are in dire need of creativity, and retailers should apply the elevated design, merchandising and staffing that are found at their flagships to all locations, according to Peterson.
“Every store is a flagship store,” he said.