In this episode:
WSL’s Wendy Liebmann and Candace Corlett discuss that, in spite of all the attention given to ecommerce during the pandemic, the physical store matters. But not the same way it used to.
- Why the store still matters to shoppers
- What shoppers expect from stores today [hint: efficiency and happiness]
- How, in a world of so many choices, people have created a new shopping journey for themselves, often and always
- How old retail terms now have very new meanings
- That saving is about time as much as money, and
- Why ecommerce is a solution, but not the only solution
Don’t miss upcoming episodes, stay up-to-date by visiting the WSL Shopper Insights Library, or our Podcast page.
Hello, I’m Wendy Liebmann, CEO and chief shopper at WSL Strategic Retail and this is Future Shop. This is where I talk to innovators and disruptors about the future of retail. Today, the topic is Retail 5.0 and the role of the store. So first of all, here’s a question for you all listening, raise your hand if, let’s say five years ago, you said at any point the store is dead. Okay? If you didn’t say it five years ago, did you say two years ago? or raise your hand if you said it last year in the middle of the pandemic, when everybody was flocking to ecommerce? Well, guess what? I’m gonna ring the bell or the gong right now because you’re all wrong. In spite of all the shifts to ecommerce over the last decade, it was clear to us all at WSL every time we conducted our shopper and retail research, that regardless of the bright, shiny object that was or is the internet, that many shoppers still needed, wanted, preferred, or even long for a physical place to shop and buy. Maybe not always, but definitely not never… excuse the double negative. As the pandemic roller coaster continues, we have seen shoppers come back to the physical stores, they do not always come back to or engage with the store the same way they did in the before times, but they are sure in the stores. And that’s what I’m going to talk about today with my guest partner in crime and partner in business life. Candace Corlett, the voice, face and brain behind all our research at WSL. Hello, Candace.
Well, thank you for those kind words, Wendy,
Well do you deserve them… Well, you and I have been talking about this thing is the physical store. And as everybody ran for the hills, we knew aside from the essentials of getting in and getting our medications and our groceries, that there was still an inherent longing for the physical place. So I want to talk to you today about this new research we’ve done, where we talk to shoppers about their expectations of shopping life, and the role the store plays in it. So tell us what we did and what stands out to you?
Well, you know, never presuming that we know exactly what’s on shoppers minds, we sat down and talk to many of them back in February, March. And it was interesting to hear the language they use to describe their frustrations with the store and their passion for the store. And it’s their passion to be in the store to be with other people to have a human connection in what is now a very digital world. People were telling us that, yes, I want to be in the store. But it has to be a different store. And that was the inspiration for our study. How do you describe what has to change in the store?
You know, what it reminded me of, and this is our longevity, and all the research we do and now our business is the work we did in 2015-16, I think which was the beginning of all of this the work that we called Build My Magic Box. And it was again, driven by the growth of E commerce the way people were thinking about what their expectations were. And yes, that’s changed. But it was that quote from a shopper, right? Who said, I want you to build me a magic box. Now I think the definition of what a magic box is, is different. But boy, they were on that journey. And we identify that even that far back
and you know what it is still they want that magic box, but they want a magic box that lets them be very fast about their shopping. And if all of our retail partners and brand partners could just look at everything they do through that lens, will it help the shopper get in and out faster. And anything that’s going to slow them down is going to be a negative tick against the retailer and the category and the brands. You know, one man said to us, you know, I don’t want to be running laps in a retailer. And I believe he was talking about Walmart. I don’t want to be running laps to find what I want. I want to go in the store and either have an app or a human being say to me, okay, the Tylenol is in aisle 12, section nine. They want in and out fast.
That sort of connotes that it’s all about efficiency. And then you’d say to yourself, well, why are they buying online? That’s just the beginning of the discussion, right? That’s the beginning of if you don’t make it easy for me, then I’m not even bothering is that right?
No, if you don’t make it easy for me, I’m going to get frustrated and then move into angry, and then not come back anymore because I have a lot of choices. But what startling is, for all we have the internet and the last two years through the pandemic, have helped retailers and shoppers learn how to use online to order basic groceries. For all we have that in place, people still want to be in stores. And it’s not often that we’re surprised by data. But over half of people find it easier to go to a store to do a big stock up trip, something like 58% say, if I have a lot of places I have to stop, it’s easier for me to get in the car and go to the store. So while the internet and online ordering and curbside pickup and in store pickup sounds like the new efficiency for almost 60% of people, it’s not, it’s too hard for them.
Well, when you think about all of that, to get everything and a big stock up and less my one place my one website, my one, whatever has it. Unless my Instacart person can find it for me in an aisle and stop texting me every 10 seconds to tell me about it’s out of stock, then digital shopping can become a chore. So that notion of okay, the familiarity of the of the store. But the other thing that struck me about it was this emotional tenant that you and the team were able to dig into, which was when are you going to the store. And you’ve identified one of the things when I’ve got a lot of things to do. But the piece before that, that sort of first step, which was I go to the store, when I’m feeling good about myself, I’m feeling good, I’m feeling strong, that’s when I go to the store when I’m down, I’m not going to the store,
You’re exactly right. 78% of people said to us, when I have energy, and I feel upbeat, I want to be in a store. And that to me comes full circle to I have energy, I’m feeling good, I’m gonna go up and down the aisles, I’m going to see things I’m going to, you know, bump into people I may know, but you have to make it easy for me. You know, it takes energy for me to be there.
So whatever the premise is, first step, it’s got to be easy.
It has to be easy from the shoppers point of view of what easy is.
And that’s what I think is so important for people to understand. I mean, you and I remember and actually, it still exists. The milk was in the back of the store. Why was the milk in the back of the store? Because we wanted people to walk through the store to get to the milk? Well, people aren’t put up with that anymore. If I want milk, and it’s always in my cart I needed every week, I got a big family than I wanted where I wanted, which is not in the back of the shop. That’s exactly correct. Yeah. So I think those things which we’ve been seeing shoppers have been seen for so long. Say that the way you design and layout, this physical store and the categories and brands you put where have to be through the lens of what shoppers think is easy. And that seems so logical. And yet operationally, that’s not the way retailers always merchandise, their stores or brands market their products.
That’s right. But you know, that is sort of reducing the shoppers expectation to the bare minimum. I mean, they are very clear about they want everything to be orderly and things in their place. And when you think about it, if something is not on the right shelf, in the right place, I look at the price, and that’s not the price, because the product is moved around. So I get to the checkout. And then I have an issue over the price of an item because it was misplaced on the shelf. So that whole concept of order, yes, it’s attractive, and it looks efficient when everything’s in its place. But it also assures me that I’m getting stuff at the prices I think I’m getting them.
Yeah, so there are again, so many factors built into the it’s also the way we just stop and think about all of those elements to a physical store. I mean, in the days when there was so little choice, I mean, you and I can remember that, you know, there was the drugstore in the supermarket and the department store and the mass merchandiser. Now, the other thing that struck me and I know this has been a benchmark measure for us for a very long time, when we asked people how many channels channels you shop in a three month period, that number has increased so dramatically, not just because there are so many more places like ecommerce as well as physical stores as well as drug, dollar and department stores and specialty and all of those but there are so many places to shop now that that number that we He showed in the new study this increase of 37% in eight years. So going from eight something channels to 11.9 something channels is extraordinary. And it says that if you don’t do it my way, I’m taking the highway, and I’m going to find somewhere else.
And it speaks to, nothing stays static, the aisles in the store have stayed static, but shoppers have changed. And then you know, the efficiency of getting a lot done under one roof that still holds for many people on many trips. But the other version of efficiency is, I’ll buy whatever I see wherever I am, buy anything, anywhere. If I trip over paper goods, or household cleaners, in a store where I might not expect to find it, I’ll buy it, and it’s off my list. If I find sparkling water stacked up somewhere where I may not expect to see it, I’ll buy it. So there’s that new efficiency that says, Yeah, I’m in a lot of places, but I’m getting a lot of stuff done while I’m in those places.
And that talks a lot to just the sort of fragmentation of the landscape. And in the last podcast I did with Andrea Leigh from the Allume Group, she talked about, you know, now this world of passive shopping. So wherever I happen to be, I’m always sort of, you know, mentally trolling, I’m on my phone waiting at the bank, nobody goes to the bank anymore. But I’m on my phone waiting for something at the dentist, I’m looking at something and I’m thinking, Oh, look at that clip. So all of that passive shopping has changed the landscape so much that the destination is not always assured. And I think that changes the complexity. The other thing that struck me in the new work is, and we’ve been tracking this for a long time, but it sort of really was grounded in a deeper dive we did, which was that I think one in four people said they’re ordering online and picking up at the store every week. So that regularity, I’m picking up at the curb, and then those two thirds of those people and now saying, Okay, I parked the car, I got that shopping out of the way I parked the car, and now I’ve gotten into the store.
That’s exactly right. And you know, it’s a function of two features. When you are ordering online, it’s very specific, I want mustard, I want ketchup, I want napkins, and I go and I click those things. And then I get to the parking lot and realize, and I forgot to get the pepper or whatever else I need. And so now I’m going to go in and that helps explain why for some people, it’s just easier to walk up and down the aisles because it triggers your memory. But the two thirds of people go into the store some of them for things they forgot. But the other half go in, just to browse, you know I got the basics done, it’s in my car, I can pull out and now I just want to go in and check out the new summer shoes or the new shades of nail polish for summer. It’s given me time back to do the things I like to do.
And I think that goes full circle back to what value is to people today. It is still even in these inflationary times. That notion of it’s about money and it’s about time and that ability to be efficient. The everywhere I shop aspect of it is efficient for me and my old quote, time is money that trade off when we think about the lowest price that people might want. Now, we also have to think about within the context of their life, their shopping life, how important is time to them. And what is that worth today?
Well, we have been alerting all of our clients to the fact that yes, low price is very important. People will state that low price is very important. But when you watch their behavior, and even in some of our work, they will admit that convenience is more important to me that saving time. And in this most recent study where defining what does the store need to be. Low price is less important than a clean store with everything in its place organized so it’s easy for me to shop because I really I can get low price in lots of places people have found lots of ways to figure out how to get low price, whether it’s accumulating all the coupons that they get printed out at a drugstore or getting $1 off on gas because they’re now shopping at a club that gives them benefits for gas in their minds they are getting low price in lots of different places. So now perfect store magic box, be me be orderly and let me get in and out quickly. And by the way, I want low price and I do want sales but I want to get in and out quickly first.
See the other thing that I think is really interesting in this and I’ve been talking recently in some of the presentations I’ve been doing and we’ve been doing around this sort of duality, this tension in the landscape now, and by that I mean the tension of like all the horrible things that are going on. But this on the one hand, I want it to be fast and efficient. But I still am interested in browsing and that people will think about browsing as this long languor as if that’s a word process, and what you’ve said, and what you are saying, I think, is that yeah, but browsing doesn’t mean I have to spend 27 hours browsing now could mean I have an extra five minutes, and how are you directing me and informing me about this new and whatever thing,
browsing like everything else, the definition has changed. It used to be exactly what you described, I’d spend three or four hours wandering up and down the aisles looking for interesting things. Now, what shoppers are telling us is browsing is I see a display in the middle of the aisle. And that’s how I discover something new and discovering something new is very high on the list, especially for millennials, I want to find new interesting things that I want to try. But I’m not going to peruse the shelf, looking for that little sign that says New, I want it to be displayed, if you will, where I will bump my card into it. And that’s how I want to discover new.
Yeah, that sounds like the power aisles are back again, right? Show me right up front. What it is that you’ve got to show me show me really good endcaps of what’s new and different, or in a department store the four by four, or the specialty store right up front, in the window messaging, all of those things that become really, really important. The other thing that struck me about what you’re just seeing is, I also think about digital and ecommerce or digital commerce as something where you can go on and look for something and you can be interrupted by brands switch. We’ve seen all of that, you know, information, what’s on the SEO, what’s the top item that comes up when you type in something general or you type in a brand and then they show you something else. But there’s also the danger, which people have told us about ending up in a dark hole right in a black hole that you end up in, because you end up following that journey. And that’s not very efficient. So it seems to me that notion of time saving is also that opportunity to think about how we redefine that experience of eommerce versus the physical store.
Well, and you know, the lesson, I think, to all of our folks who are listening and are engaged in the digital marketplace is why is it that 50 to 60% of people would still rather go into a store. So somehow the digital marketplace has not made it simple for me to do my basic shopping. And that may be generational, it may be a comfort level with keeping my list. I shop online a lot for pickup. And I think the retailers have done a great job of reminding me what I bought last time and suggesting it again. But there’s something about that trigger that is missing that presentation of the aisle that triggers my memory to buy things that still eludes the digital marketplace.
Even if you’re immersed in a specific category, whether it’s beauty, or it’s gardening, or it’s fashion or whatever. And you go online looking for something specific, I’m looking for a pair of white high tops, but then all the choices are clutter, I can go the other way and look at the latest fashion trends. And I can say, oh, isn’t that nice? And sometimes there’s just way too much choice. So I start to think about how do you hone that down and retailers who have done a very good job the whether it’s the everyday categories that Costco is or the Trader Joe’s or the Aldis, where there is a much more edited selection even in Target for that matter. You know, we’re okay, my choices are easier. I trust the brand. The brand is me. You know, I think what you’ve raised is really important here, that we have to rethink the way we use these terms that we’ve used for years decades. And we have to really think about them differently through the sharpest lens, which is what is browsing really mean, when we say browsing People think oh, hours days aisles choice, which we now know from what we’re seeing in our research is not the way people think about browsing.
No, it’s not anymore. And the definition you know, the the motivation behind why do I want that store to be orderly? Because I want to be sure that when I check a price on the shelf, that’s the price and shoppers told us this in our interviews… Yes, there are price scanners but they often don’t work or I have to walk two aisles to find one and I just don’t want to be bothered. I want the store to present the products in a way that I can count on the price below the item is the price that’s what order means now.
you don’t just have to be in a, you know, in an everyday kind of consumable sort of store where you’re looking at Campbell’s Soup, you can be in a fashion store, and you can’t find the price on things. I get annoyed when I’m in the florist shop, and I can’t find the price on the pot of chrysanthemums or something I want to know now whether I’m buying or not. So that said, as we think about the way shoppers are not only articulating this new journey, and the role of the store, ecommerce, social shopping, always on passive and active shopping, as a brand marketer, or as a retailer, how do we need to engage people now? I mean, I think about, I’ve got the list I’ve ordered online, now I’m going to the store to pick it up. There’s that list or that moment in the shopping journey. There’s the parking the car and saying, oh, did I forget it? That’s annoying. How do I say to people, you’ve forgotten it? Don’t forget it? Or how do I say to people, good job, you get your Starbucks coffee, when you’re at Target. I know you want to do that come in, because in aisle three, we’ve got these fabulous new summer sandals. So how do we have to think about that as marketers as brand builders?
there used to be banners outside the store, there used to be signs in the windows, I mean, I’m in awe of how many concrete walls there are. But it’s almost like take that concrete wall and make it a chalkboard. Because when people are in the parking lot, and approaching the store, that’s your opportunity to impact them. And most stores, you are just looking at a concrete wall, I think the new front end, here’s another term that’s been redefined. The in store pickup place is the new front end, the merchandise stacked up there is so enticing. And it’s not you know the one off, I’ll buy myself a chocolate bar, or I’ll have myself a beverage no, with stacked up merchandise that you might have forgotten, or that’s on a great sale to put it right in front of you. And of course it places like curbside pickup and the return section, there’s space to stack stuff. In our Retail Safari® work, we’re seeing a lot of the new definition of the front end, particularly for the curbside and in store pickup and the return section.
So that says, everybody pay attention now that you’ve put your hand down after thinking the store was dead. Look for the some of our latest Retail Safaris because we’ve got lots of examples of that. The one that really struck me when I was thinking about The Role of the Store in Retail 5.0 Is that the Hema out of China, the Alibaba supermarket that we showcased in our Retail Safari® last year, what was amazing to me about that was that integration of okay, I have to sign in with my phone, it looks like a supermarket. Mostly everything I need is on my phone information about the product pricing. If I’m not clear all of those things, I don’t have to wait for somebody to put it on the shelf, I can check out and do all of that on my phone. I could actually order stuff online and you could actually see the conveyor belt going across the top of the supermarket sending it home for me. But the other thing that really struck me in terms of what is the solution, or this emotional connection to the store was actually once you got all that done, there was the fish market and what they understood about their shoppers were the one thing these people really wanted to do in the supermarket was to pick their own fish fresh out of the big tanks. They then wanted to either have it cooked there for them to take home, or they wanted to sit and eat
well, again, the human element. And as we get more and more digital and Metaverse, we crave that human element. And you’re right. Hema is just filled with digital connections and apps. But I picked my fish, pluck the fish, cook it and serve it to me at a nice clean table.
And I do think that in those retailers that we’re looking at, across the world now and coming out of this new work we’ve done as people start to think about store has not gone away, the physical store has a role to play. But what role does it play? And how do you make the experience efficient, get it off people’s list the things they don’t want to think about, and then engage them in the things that they really do want to think about in meaningful and emotionally connected ways? And I think we’re seeing that we see that in the new HyVee concepts out of Iowa. We see it in China with Hema and I think that’s the unlocking of what this new retail physical world really looks like now, and
the other piece that the new physical world really looks like it’s natural light. All the stores we’re covering in our Retail Safari® have somehow allowed the light to shine in. And I think whether it translates to have a sense of cleaner air, but you’re not in this dark cave, you’re in a well naturally lit space. And so you assume the air is probably better to because there’s natural light.
Yeah, it is the human in all of this experience now. So I think, you know, as we wrap this up, it’s really interesting to me in some ways, I feel like you and I’ve been talking about this forever, it’s the evolution of our work. It’s the way we see shoppers, changing how their sentiments lead to their new actions, hopefully, to the actions, not just reactions of the retailers and the manufacturers that we talk to and work with. But that notion of challenging the words we use and defining what they mean now through a shopper lens, really is the essence of success as we move into this Retail 5.0.
And what we need to remember is, I feel like I keep saying this half of us shoppers are now under 40, those millennials got middle aged pretty quickly, but they have expectations that are off the charts. And over the next five years, they’re going to become 45. And their children are going to be bit growing. But what they want is this connection to the physical store, they want to be in stores as much as everyone else. Yes, they are the digital gurus. But they also want to be in the physical store. And they are very clear about all the things that has to be. It’s about brand discovery, it’s about finding things in their culture, as we become a more diverse country. They want to find things that remind them of their culture. They want demonstrations to help them figure out what to buy. And the demonstration isn’t just a cooking demonstration. In our Retail Safari, we covered one retailer who was doing crafts in the store, everything you needed to do this craft could be purchased right there in that store. And that’s what millennials want. They want a total experience. And the browsing is, I’m not gonna walk up and down the aisles, looking how to put something together, be running a demonstration. So and then hand me the list. And I go when I buy it, and I found something new.
So I think there was so many dimensions to all of this. So we say to everybody, of course, as always go to our website, wslstrategicretail.com. And you can access our latest reports, you can access our latest retail safaris, you can sign up for our trend alerts, our blogs, our podcasts, but the key challenge to us all now is to really understand that shoppers want a store a physical as well as a digital store. But it’s not the way they necessarily wanted it or used it before. And so that’s the biggest challenge moving forward. So Candace, as always, I thank you for all our latest research, I know we’ve got lots of other new things coming, including our work that we’ve just done on inflation, and all of those pressures and a new tool that we’re going to be telling everybody about in the next moment or two. So thank you for all the hard work,
We have just scratched the surface on what the next door needs to be. There are so many dimensions and so many terms as you mentioned, Wendy, that have transitioned to mean something else. Now I look forward to people calling us as a result of this podcast and saying come tell me about this because every brand and every category has a responsibility to elevate the store experience.
Well, all those retailers who were talking about stores of the future, or 2.0 or 3.0 or whatever. This is the blueprint to a shopper centric lens. As we said at WSL follow the shopper to see the future. See you there.