Don't wait around for employees to return to the office; it may never reach the levels we saw pre-pandemic. Looking solely at NYC, outer boroughs provide an opportunity for Manhattan-based retailers to meet customers where they are, while renting space at a fraction of Manhattan retail rent. I can't say the same strategy will work for other urban spaces, but it's worth considering a retail presence on "Main Street" suburbia.
A space to test technology with a specific customer group makes a lot of sense. However I wonder if Amazon is also trying to figure out how to showcase their own brands in a space filled with high-intent consumers. There's so much noise on Amazon search results, whereas a salon chair is a great way to not just pitch a product, but also let customers use it before buying. If Amazon doesn't plan to open more salons, maybe they're testing how to best connect with customers and convince them to buy Amazon private-label.
I believe it depends on where the incentives occur, whether online or offline. Gamification in the digital space has become a known method of drawing in the crowds (e.g. Robinhood). One explanation may be that users can move as quickly as they want, gaining rewards nearly same-day after they post on Facebook and Instagram. However, such a strategy in the offline world could easily become a nuisance to customers. I love Suresh's comparison between Panera and Dunkn'. I would much rather be surprised with a free cookie than download an app to track every coffee purchase.
As Kroger continues expanding its digital marketplace and paid media opportunities, we will discover whether their data analytics is a true "competitive moat" in the space. Personalization is a start, but leveraging first-party data to generate ad revenue while producing meaningful return on ad spend for brands will be an important determinant. Walmart's ad platform (Walmart Connect) has produced some amazing ROAS results for brands of all sizes. Can Kroger beat Walmart's ad performance? We'll have to wait and see.