A Dozen Predictions for Multi-Location Brands

A Dozen Predictions for Multi-Location Brands

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Over the past few years, we’ve seen cosmic shifts in consumer shopping and dining behaviors. Our lives have been forever changed by the pandemic and the proliferation of a wide range of technologies (not to mention supply chain challenges).  Our focus on multi-location brands qualifies us as futurists, so here are some of our observations and predictions for the years ahead based on the trends we’re seeing.

  1. Multi-location is fast becoming multi-purpose. In other words, we’re seeing more stores that are category-agnostic. Restaurants sell merchandise and feature entertainment. Shoppers can buy groceries along with kids’ clothes and household products. The variety store is as likely a big box as a mom-and-pop. And the traditional convenience store must become even more convenient to meet the needs of travelers and local shoppers.
  2. Specialty stores and niche restaurants are opening their doors and growing. We call it “the boutique at scale.” In the months ahead, we’ll be covering some of these concepts. The tiny box will join the big box in the multi-location and franchise world, selling everything from cupcakes to assisted health and wellness services. This leads to a prediction about store footprints…
  3. AI will enable multi-location brands to analyze traffic patterns and shopper behaviors in real-time, enabling them to configure locations around how people actually use spaces. It will have huge implications for both store design and inventory management.
  4. Checkout has already evolved to self-checkout and may soon be human-free. Computer vision is already being applied in many retail stores, and AI will monitor what’s in the basket and enable shoppers to walk out with purchases.
  5. The transformations in #3 and #4 will create a new retail and restaurant employee type. Human service will become even more important, and the service worker of the future will need impeccable soft skills, as well as an understanding of the technologies within the store.
  6. Drive-throughs, curbside pick-ups, and BOPIS (buy online, pick up in-store) are here to stay. Pandemic shopping behaviors have become part of daily life.
  7. Brand fickleness has long been a concern, and certain categories (like groceries) are affected by price competition, advertising spending, and convenience. But the “allure of the new” is a reality, and Gen Z may have a different definition of brand loyalty from previous generations, looking for factors beyond product/service features. Transparency, philanthropy, and sustainability all come into play.
  8. The consumer experience is more critical than ever. When Ikea first opened, the concept of a restaurant within a furniture retailer was novel. But now, we see coffee cafes within various types of stores. Restaurants sell merch and hold cornhole competitions. Athletic apparel stores host yoga classes. One-stop shopping is now one-stop entertainment and immersion.
  9. “Near me” searches will become even more specific and voice-assisted. Brands must stay on top of their store hours, reviews, menu and product listings, and other factors consumers search for. And AI will make brands smarter — faster — about those factors.
  10. Decision-making speed and course correction will become vital to survival. AI will give multi-location brands the data they need to make smarter traffic flow, inventory, customer profiles, staffing, and security decisions, not to mention marketing spending. But what will the brands do with that data? They can either argue that human intelligence is better than artificial intelligence or learn to live in peace with automated insights and apply that data to growth and operational changes.
  11. The multi-location designation will become as important as the type of store. Conferences and media are often designed around the types of products a retailer or restaurant sells. But, whether a brand is a franchise or corporately managed, having multiple locations gives rise to a unique set of operational and marketing imperatives. They are competing against new types of storefronts, as well as against true mom-and-pop retailers at the local level.
  12. Building off #10 and #11, savvy brands will realize that the consumer is at the epicenter of any transaction and will use AI-generated insights to personalize at scale. In other words, we’ll be fed prompts and products that we truly need — when we need them. Of course, concerns about privacy will grow as a result. But when some consumers realize that personalization can save them time and money, they may embrace its value.

As in pastry and bagel stores (multi-location or other), a baker’s dozen is always a sweet surprise. So, here is a bonus #13 prediction:

As marketing budgets get scrutinized and spend must be tied to ROI, smart CMOs and other decision-makers will increase their investment in local search and expand their knowledge of this aspect of business-building. Every day, 1.6B (yes, billion!) searches involve local intent (i.e., “near me” criteria) and capturing your position (and the consumer’s attention) becomes even more critical. Think about your own behavior when you’re shopping, dining, or looking for something when you’re traveling. This aspect of marketing is no longer the domain of the IT department. When a prospect is looking for something near them, what will they find about your locations?

Which of these predictions will manifest in the months and years ahead? Only time (and AI and consumer behavior) will tell!

We welcome your own “crystal ball” views, so feel free to reach out with story ideas and trends.

Nancy A Shenker, senior editor with Street Fight, is a former big brand (Citibank, Mastercard, Reed Exhibitions) marketing strategist and leader. She has been featured in Inc.com, the New York Times and Forbes.