The days of viewing online and offline retail as completely separate are long-gone. Now major players such as Walmart look for ways to mesh online activity with their in-store operations. The ways these different channels of retail have become intertwined was at the heart of a panel discussion moderated by Mike Dudas, CRO of Button, at the Street Fight Summit in Brooklyn on Tuesday.
One the most telling examples of how retail intersects in-store and online was Walmart’s acquisition last September of e-tailer Jet.com. Micah Moreau, senior director of marketing with Jet.com, joined Gwen Morrison, co-CEO of WPP’s The Store, the advertising and public relations company’s retail practice, and David Carson, CMO of The New Stand, on the panel to talk about the transformation underway in the retail space.
The marriage of online, local, and brick and mortar is not such a strange combination, said Moreau: “Retail has always be local. All real estate is local.” Walmart, as well as many other traditional retailers, previously established online presences that also connected to the store locations.
Even with the widespread presence of Walmart stores, Moreau said there were more possibilities to serve customers who order products online from the company. “We started a pilot in a couple of cities where Walmart store employees could earn extra money by delivering packages to customers on their way home,” he said.
That is one way retailers have been marrying online to their in-store business, a change in thinking that is necessary to survive, according to Morrison. Malls and retailers face a great challenge, she said, as consumer shopping trends change forcing the industry to figure out what its future will look like. “There is a need and mandate for brick and mortar retailers to compete . . . by changing the physical retail environment from lists of products to engagement,” she said.
A hybrid retail experience, one that blends online access with the familiarity of visiting stores, may be the shape of things to come for the industry. The New Stand, Carson said, takes such an approach to the convenience store by combining the service and access of an app with real world locations. Users of the New Stand app are fed new articles, product releases, and new music. They can also use the app to get weekly deals and to quickly check out of the store with their purchases.
The New Stand has locations at Union Square, Columbus Circle, and near the World Trade Center in New York. “We find that technology helps us,” Carson said, “but we found that by spotlighting our members it creates a unique experience where people engage with our store and community. We understand what is you like to buy and read and listen and that makes the retail experience better.”
Joao-Pierre Ruth is a Street Fight contributor. Photograph by Shana Wittenwyler.