Mobile retail aspires to attain food truck-like popularity

Photo: Lovesac
Oct 05, 2021

Mobile retail is at the early experimental phase of development, but operators are looking to achieve the same level of acceptance as food trucks have achieved in the restaurant space.

The Lovesac Company, the home furnishing brand known for its adaptable Sactionals couches, just launched Mobile Concierge in the Seattle and Washington, D.C. areas. Customers schedule a visit from the van and, inside, receive live demonstrations, see the latest innovations, touch and feel fabric cover options, and design their own Sactionals setup to fit their space and style.

Mobile Concierge builds on the growing use of showroom and virtual appointments, as well as interactive Facebook Live demos over the last year.

“We wanted to create a new way for customers to shop our products, free from the stress of busy shopping centers and limited parking,” said Shawn Nelson, Lovesac CEO and founder, in a statement. “We decided to bring the showroom right to the customers’ home with a one-on-one, tailored shopping experience.

Santa, created by former Wework veterans, recently debuted in Texas with two trucks canvassing Plano and Frisco. The trucks offer a weekly-rotating range of fashion, beauty, tech, home décor and gifts with a focus on locally-made.

The initial idea was to offer front door exchanges to eliminate the hassle of online returns, but Santa’s mobile trucks also enable customers to try on clothing and see how décor looks in their homes before purchasing. Customers see the merchandise on the Santa app and are notified when the truck will be in their area.

“Santa is an attempt to create a new kind of physical store that moves around and is backed by logistics and technology,” Roee Adler, Santa’s CEO, told The Dallas Morning News. “We are here to surprise and delight.”

In the IBD (independent bike dealer) channel, Vancouver-based Velofix’s Sprinter vans offer bike repair at rider’s homes as well as assembly and delivery of bikes bought online.

Kitzuma Cycling Logistics, based in Asheville, NC, solely works with direct-to-consumer bike brands on fully-assembled home delivery. Taylor Essick, Kitzuma co-founder and CEO, said in a recent statement, “We knew when we started Kitzuma that for brands selling direct, this model offered so many benefits.”

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Why haven’t mobile vans become a bigger opportunity as a selling and engagement tool for retailers? Do any of the mobile selling options described in the article project a broader opportunity for retail?

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13 Comments on "Mobile retail aspires to attain food truck-like popularity"

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Mark Ryski

This is an innovative approach, but I suspect that the big hurdle is the cost to scale this level of service. There’s no question that for some consumers, the idea of the showroom coming to their home will be very compelling. However for the vast majority of consumers, visiting stores or simply buying online provide more convenience and/or experiences that can’t be had through a truck service. That said, I do think there’s a place for mobile retailing and for some categories, this may be ideal.

DeAnn Campbell

As much as customers love personalization and great customer service, they conversely also want a modicum of anonymity. There’s a lot of pressure on the shopper and a feeling of expectation to buy when a van pulls up in your driveway. And from the retailer’s perspective, the cost to deploy staff, product and great customer experience through small mobile vehicles is far steeper than any benefit received. The only exception would be repair services, as mentioned in this article, but that’s a service call more than a retail selling tool.

Jenn McMillen

It’s about scale. If you can’t scale it, then it’s just a novelty.

Melissa Minkow

Mobile retail does a lot of things better than brick-and-mortar and online shopping. This model is often times far more convenient for the consumer, can minimize returns significantly, provides instant gratification and quick browsing. However this approach doesn’t solve for the largest industry issues. While this does inherently address the last-mile, mobile retail won’t alleviate supply chain challenges and inventory shortages. I’d also hope these are electric vehicles for the environment’s sake.

I think mobile retail has potential as a model and engagement tool, but there are improvements to be made.

Oliver Guy
Oliver Guy
Global Industry Architect, Microsoft Retail
1 year 8 months ago

This is a superb way to do pop-up retail in a consistent and adaptable manner but there are a number of flaws that could get in the way. One area could well be environment – trucks of this kind outside tend to be exposed to inclement weather making things challenging for consumers.
Another approach to this kind of pop-up approach could be what Situ Live are doing in London – acting as an aggregator for brands who want to have a physical presence for a limited time – but the presence is in an experience led store environment that represents multiple brands at once and changes every few weeks creating a reason for consumers to keep visiting.

David Spear
David Spear
VP, Professional Services, Retail, NCR
1 year 8 months ago

Other than the obvious expense of vans and the constraint on broad geographic coverage, mobile vans are a fantastic vehicle (pun intended) to extend the experiential element of the services/products they provide. They bring a sense of newness and excitement. Whenever I see a new food truck, I always stop and see what’s cooking. And if the mobile strategy is coupled with an online/app presence, then scaling the business can be achieved. But without this digital element, the business is limited by the # of vans on the road. The pandemic has certainly carved a new niche for mobile stores and just as consumers are getting more comfortable with strangers showing up at their homes to deliver groceries, I think the mobile van strategies will multiply as well.

Shep Hyken

This concept is not new. Moby Mart is a solar-powered convenience store that operates autonomously, driving through residential streets at specific times, bringing retail to their customers’ homes. It boasts that it’s “the world’s first autonomous, staff-less and moible store.” And it’s been around since 2017. The Lovesac Company takes it to a more personalized level. Either way, it’s all about convenience for the customer. We’ll start seeing more of these types of businesses and offerings in the near future.

Gary Sankary

The appeal of a food truck is the culinary treasure hunt. It’s fun to find a new great truck. Plus, there’s a convenience factor of being able to find a few food offerings at a venue like a brewery or a concert. This concept, while innovative, really doesn’t check any of those boxes in my opinion. Trucks and kiosks work well for impulse buys or convenient access to small items in an airport or hotel. For furniture or big ticket items? According to the article I have to make an appointment, meet the truck at the appointed time and place, make a decision about a big ticket item on the spot I suspect — I’m not sure this will go much further than early adopters and people who really don’t like going out to stores.

Jennifer Bartashus

Mobile commerce seems intuitively interesting but is exceedingly difficult to make profitable. Are lower returns a real offset to the cost of the vehicle, driver, insurance, gas, etc.? And does your driver also need to be a brand ambassador and sales person? You need to achieve certain volumes of sales to make the proposition worth it. So in this example, furniture, decor or fashion items might carry a higher price point, but the ability to test them out is a slow process, limiting how many stops such vehicles could make in a given day. Last mile is the most expensive part of e-commerce, so putting the entire process there seems like it may be a challenging way to grow.

Lee Peterson

We just did a test with 2,700 consumers around the U.S. about this exact question and it came back pretty negative. As a matter of fact the response was more like, NO! Still, as always for me, it’s worth a test. Nike, Gatorade and others have made it work, but at sporting events. Hey, fail fast! Better to learn than to know nothing.

Craig Sundstrom

To state (what should seem like) the obvious, offering demonstrations and samples doesn’t really make something a (surrogate) store … more like a counter (within a store); and therein lies the problem: limited inventory. Which has been the same issue since, what, 1920 … 1890 .. 1890 B.C.?
There seems to be an axiom at work here: if the basic technology hasn’t changed much — and a van is still a big box — then there’s so reason to expect it will suddenly be put to different uses.

Rachelle King

Let’s be honest, most retailers have their hands full trying to figure out curb side pickup. The idea of putting a shoppable truck in front of shoppers homes is ambitious, at best.

Progressive retailers, like Kroger, who have dabbled in drone delivery, may dabble here; it fuels innovation. However, most serious efforts will come from digitally native merchants that don’t have retail operating expenses.

Still, we will need to see a mental shift from shoppers before this has any real scale. Despite the unprecedented growth on ecommerce, brick and mortar still own the lion share of retail sales. Shoppers are used to going to stores. There is something oddly cool yet weirdly creepy about having your local store pull up in your drive-way.

Kai Clarke

No. This mobile retail is simply a concierge concept dressed up and re-labeled as mobile retail. It brings products and services direct to the consumer just like a concierge service does, and offers choices directly to the consumer from the truck. How can this be a broader opportunity for the consumer, when it is simply the extension of the retailer brought directly to the consumer? The value is discriminate, and questionable across a broad base of retailers. This is no different than a buy online and deliver to your door model.


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