Change is inevitable, and for the retail industry this has never been truer than it is now. Many observers bill the recent turbulence as some sort of meltdown or apocalypse, but in reality it’s more like the beginning of a new era – one that may lead major retail companies to shift their strategy in unconventional, seemingly odd ways.
And this week we are seeing more evidence of those retail changes take shape. First, leading fashion specialty retailer Nordstrom and the following day, Apple. Both brands are zeroing in on a key factor that’s helped other industries, like travel and restaurants, not only succeed but also grow. That factor is experience, and it’s something that smart retailers know needs to be sold much like goods on a shelf.
Apple proved this without a doubt during its latest product release event. While most following the news were focused on the details of the company’s next iPhone models, the event kicked off with an update about what’s to come for brick-and-mortar store locations, which SVP of Retail Angela Ahrendts referred to as Apple’s “largest products.” She previously referred to Apple Retail as more town hall gathering spaces, and that’s exactly what they’ll become in many major cities. People can come in to take classes on how to sharpen their photography skills (which is handy since Apple’s new iPhone 8 seems to pack a professional-worthy smartphone camera), executives can gather for meetings, or the community can assemble to watch a video or movie on a large projector screen.
Apple has always sold experience – but selling that experience with a brick-and-mortar store requires some adjusting. (So much so that Ahrendts joked may cause people to forget it actually sells products there.) It’s just that now, the company is committed to extending the experience its customers have well beyond the purchase of a device – and in doing so building loyalty.
But it’s not just Apple who understands this trend. This week Nordstrom also announced plans for a new concept store – Nordstrom Local – that won’t stock apparel for casual foot traffic shopping. Instead, the store concept will offer free consultations from style assistants. Customers can choose the clothing they’re interested in online, and book an appointment to try them on. Additionally, these concept stores will also have hair stylists and other amenities usually found at a day spa.
Now this may seem like a fringe perk for a very specific kind of customer that’s used to being waited on hand and foot. But that’s completely missing how this smart retail brand is responding to the way people now shop. Or as Nordstrom Senior Vice President of Customer Experience told the Wall Street Journal: “Shopping today may not always mean going to a store and looking at a vast amount of inventory… It can mean trusting an expert to pick out a selection of items.”
Retail’s future may seem weird and unconventional at first, but before you realize it you’ll wonder how you ever managed to buy anything sifting through racks and browsing shelves with only a vague idea of what you intended to buy – and without the assist of your smartphone.