3 Ways Brands Can Thrive in an Ever-Changing Retail Industry

A focus on data-led connections and experiences can lift in-store success

As retail continues to transform, brands need to find data-driven ways to keep up. Getty Images
Headshot of Alan Hart

Retail isn’t dead, just boring retail is. This assessment by John Costello, former president for global marketing and innovation at Dunkin’ Brands, simultaneously points out that the death of retail has been greatly exaggerated while letting retailers know that they must find ways to stand out to thrive.

To succeed in retail means evolving through innovation, smart marketing and working with strategic partners. And it’s important to point out that investment like this takes time and resources, an approach that private, equity-backed retailers typically aren’t willing to pursue, with Toys “R” Us being the most recent example.

In speaking with executives who work with or within thriving retailers, I found three examples that can spell success for retailers today.

Experiences can change the business model and drive in-store sales

Retailers are using their existing footprints to deliver more value to customers. Envisioning what people want from an in-store experience ­can be a critical component in building a retail brand today. With so much peril in the retail industry, it’s a way to stay relevant and thrive.

“Whether it’s campouts in iconic locations, in-store outfitting appointments, hosted mountain bike tours or weekend outdoor women’s retreats like Outessa, experiences are a growing part of how REI engages with its customers,” says Craig Rowley, vice president of marketing at REI. “We have hundreds happening every week. We also have a rapidly growing travel business, Adventures and wayfinding apps for trails, mountain biking and mountain climbing. These help us connect and engage with avid outdoors people and those trying it for the very first time.”

Find new ways to connect with the local community

Pearle Vision is focused on genuine neighborhood eye care, yet it uses a national franchise business model. The brand’s deep neighborhood roots in the communities they serve date back to the vision of its founder, Dr. Stanley Pearle. The key to success for Pearle Vision is finding the balance between national efficiency and local effectiveness.

Envisioning what people want from an in-store experience ­can be a critical component in building a retail brand today.

“We have DMAs where we have a limited location footprint, and so it would be strategically unwise to buy an entire statewide or citywide media buy for one or two locations,” says Doug Zarkin, vp and CMO at Pearle Vision. “And so, in order to ensure these locations thrive, we’ve been able to apply big data and the latest technology for good—not for evil, as they say. Geo-targeting has allowed us to be uber-effective and super efficient.”

This approach of creating a personal narrative with prospective customers enables Pearle Vision to cement their community connections. That, in turn, attracts consumers who value trust when they are deciding who to turn to for their eyewear and eye care needs.

Break new (data) ground with your manufacturing partners 

You are not in this alone. Manufacturers whose products you sell are looking to partner in innovative ways to drive their sales and yours. “Manufacturers and retailers are increasingly focused on sharing and using data to design and communicate pricing and promotional programs that feature the right products in the right place at the right time to the right customers,” says Scott Mueller, president of Shopchology, a strategic shopper marketing services firm.

A recent study conducted by the Promotion Optimization Institute shows 70 percent of millennials rate personalization of offers as important as choosing their primary store and mobile for the offers they choose to engage with. “Traditional circular and in-store trade promotions are quickly becoming irrelevant to the fastest-growing segments of shoppers,” adds Mueller. “For many shoppers, convenience increasingly trumps price as a key motivator, and the more data they willingly share, the higher their expectations are for marketing personalization that makes the decision to ‘buy this’ and ‘buy it here’ as simple as possible.”

Today’s manufacturers are seeking ways to support retail partners that create win-win scenarios, and that’s why retailers should look past the typical trade-funding traps of temporary price reductions and promotions. It is time for that thinking to change and allow these relationships to evolve.

@abhart Alan Hart runs a strategic consultancy housed within creative agency McKinney. He is also the creator and host of “Marketing Today with Alan Hart,” a podcast presenting his interviews with top marketing professionals and business leaders.