For a long time, retail was all about stocking a ton of stuff at as low of prices as possible — awesome until Amazon came along and did that better than any physical retail store could ever hope to do. But, for all of Amazon’s dominance, there is no retail apocalypse — sales at physical stores in general are still growing, and physical sales still account for between 80 and 90 percent of all retail sales.
The only explanation? The stores finding success are doing so in new ways. After all, it’s the prime example of the old way — the shopping mall — that’s been hit hardest. There are about as many blog posts about the fall of the mall as there are malls closing, and both of those numbers are high! Part of that is due to high rent, but it’s also because the major tenants — department stores like J.C. Penney and Sears — are struggling mightily. Malls are slowly going from what you see in this picture to what you’ll find on sites devoted to primo urban ruin photography.
So, what’s going on? The most successful stores have become tech companies in some way, whether it’s H&M using data to make better decisions about what they stock or brands that started online and went physical, like ThinkGeek or Warby Parker. In fact, the clearest example of the future of the store is one of the biggest tech companies in the world — Apple. Apple Stores sell relatively few products — Apple devices and meticulously curated third-party accessories — and focus on giving customers the chance to play with and learn about their gadgets.
At its core, that’s not a tech-based strategy. But, to pull it off well enough to be successful in the future, it needs to be backed by the latest tech. That’s one of the major themes at the National Retail Federation’s Big Show, which is happening now in New York City. Store owners are talking tech, and what they’re talking about is exciting — even if it’s going to make you think hard about just how much you want your favorite brands and stores to know about you.