How the purpose of stores is evolving

Note from the editor

It may seem obvious to say that stores have had to evolve in the past two decades as e-commerce infiltrated the industry. Then again, stores have always evolved in order to compete as times, technology and tastes change. And, most of all, to please customers.

In the internet era, a shopper is likely to have made a series of decisions based on information gathered on their phone, well before they get to the store. Which by the way is what most shoppers still do, for practical reasons, and, at least some of the time, because it’s fun.

Yet in important ways, what’s old is new again. Many of the innovations fueling today's successful retailers, for example — like private label differentiation, localization, personalization and convenience — were classic amenities offered by department stores a hundred years ago. These days, Nordstrom is working to update that old-school customer focus for the 21st century, although mass merchants like Target have also paved the way. With convenience conquered by e-retailers, stores must be enticing and experiential, although it’s not always clear what that means. It can help to have captive customers, as at the airport. Meanwhile, some brick-and-mortar experiments have met with mixed results.

Taking stock of physical retail, which in the U.S. is in retreat after over-building for a few decades, means evaluating the future not just of stores but also of shopping centers, which are bifurcating into winners that will thrive and losers that will be increasingly abandoned.

Retail stores may need to evolve, and the stories we’ve gathered here show how many are adapting in a tough market — one made even tougher for operators by a pandemic. But make no mistake, as demonstrated not least by the desire of e-commerce pure-plays to meet their customers in physical spaces, they are definitely sticking around.

Daphne Howland Senior Reporter

Is Bloomie's the future of department stores?

The concept store may prove the company's agility and ability to bring in new audiences.

• Published Sept. 20, 2021

7 experiential store concepts that opened in 2021

From Dick's Public Lands outdoors banner to Bloomie's to Ulta's Target shop-in-shops, here are some of the most notable concept launches.

• Published Oct. 11, 2021

'There's nothing like it out there': Dollar General's Popshelf aims to create and conquer a new market

Seeking a treasure hunt vibe, the new format is expanding rapidly as it courts middle-income suburban shoppers. With success and scale come some big decisions for the company.

• Published July 19, 2021

Malls may not even need anchors. Here's why.

Department stores used to drive traffic, but now they're just a drag.

• Published July 12, 2021

Who's the 'department store' now?

Big boxes, specialty stores and discounters have stolen share from department stores for years. Now some, most notably Target, are stealing their merchandising playbook too.

• Published March 15, 2021

A closer look at RH's Aspen 'ecosystem'

The brand in 2021 made an investment into a major Colorado real estate development, which includes stores, restaurants, residences and a spa.

• Published Jan. 14, 2021

How Nike is using DTC and data to expand its empire

Since 2011, the sportswear giant has grown direct-to-consumer sales from 16% of its namesake brand revenues to 35%, all while continuing to take share.

• Published March 23, 2021

Dick's is testing 5 store concepts. Here's why.

Store revamps are also in progress, and the sporting goods specialist is expanding its private label reach as it looks to maintain a winning position.

• Published July 19, 2021

How outdoor furniture brand Outer grew its unique showroom model

The DTC company last month opened its 1,000th Neighborhood Showroom, a concept that helps connect potential customers with existing ones.

• Published Aug. 3, 2021

The inconvenient truth about drugstores

By filling up stores with junk food, tobacco and other high-margin goods, these retailers may be risking loyalty and market share in other key categories.

• Published Feb. 10, 2021

Will suburbia save the mall?

It's not clear how many people are leaving cities due to the pandemic. Or how much it helps the once-popular shopping destination if they do.

• Published April 9, 2021

30 minutes with For Now's co-founders

As the limitations of selling exclusively online become apparent, the company's mission is to not only give emerging brands a physical presence but an opportunity to grow.

• Published April 27, 2021

The evolution of stores in 2021

As physical stores re-open nationwide, what was old in retail is new again. With convenience conquered by e-retailers, stores are redesigning locations to be enticing and experiential, experimenting with brick-and-mortar to attract shoppers who have been dormant too long.

included in this trendline
  • Dick's debuts experiential House of Sport store concept
  • Dollar General ramps up expansion of Popshelf concept
  • How Nike is using DTC and data to expand its empire
Our Trendlines go deep on the biggest trends. These special reports, produced by our team of award-winning journalists, help business leaders understand how their industries are changing.
Davide Savenije Editor-in-Chief at Industry Dive.