Will new ‘stores of the future’ produce results for retailers in the here and now?
As in-store experiential innovation and customer experience (CX) becomes increasingly imperative for brick-and-mortar retail, so has the need for measurement and validating quantitative evidence. However, in today’s hyper-competitive market validating proof is often shrouded in unsubstantiated claims of commercial success or PR polish. This has resulted in a parade of technologies over the past decade that apparently all provide amazing and irrefutable returns on their investment.
Although “stores of the future” have become increasingly popular, many of them germinate from internal store proof-of-concept labs. These labs implement a wide range of technologies from mobile applications to robots and move emerging digital ideas from concept into consumer testbeds. The challenge, however, is that they are not real stores—staged shoppers are brought in to use and engage with these concepts while being observed or intercepted for questions. While still valuable, critical insights are missed due to the unnatural setting and prompted responses.
Last June, Atlanta-based HighStreet Collective addressed this issue when it unveiled its Living Retail Lab. Years were spent scouting for a “perfect store” from a CX perspective to embed what they refer to as “innovation sprints.” The goal was to put technology into a natural habitat and test various strategic and creative approaches to understand the impact. Citizen Supply, a high traffic store in Atlanta’s Ponce City Market, became HighStreet’s public retail partner. Their journey was made public from the first sprint onward with updates and videos.
“I’ve spent almost 20 years in this industry on countless projects that can never be discussed on a stage. Although proud of many, I’ve always wondered what could have been had we been able to get every lever of the experience as perfect as possible, and measure and optimize to be sure,” said Laura Davis-Taylor, HighStreet’s co-founder. “Finally, we can–and we’re doing it using ready to scale, financially and operationally prudent technology.”
Last week, a similar idea was unveiled from McKinsey & Company with the announcement of the Modern Retail Collective at Mall of America. Like HighStreet, it is a store intended to assess shopper technologies in a real-world setting via a group of participating test partners. With this store, however, multiple, advanced technologies are employed. McKinsey owns the store and uses integrated analytics. Inspired by pop-ups, McKinsey is rotating experiments with a cohort of brands, the end goal being to pave the future of brick and mortar.
“We have the perspective that stores are here to stay, and there is a lot of opportunity to improve how they perform,” said Tiffany Burns, a partner at McKinsey. “And we see our clients navigating all the change and trying to understand what they can really do to improve the performance, which technology is valid, what will customers accept and like, and everyone is ‘throwing things at it.’”
- Living Retail Lab – HighStreet Collective
- Modern Retail Collective – McKinsey & Company
- The Industry’s First “Living Retail Lab” Releases Results – Digital Signage Connection
- McKinsey Opening Test Lab Store In Mall Of America – Sixteen: Nine
- McKinsey makes foray into retail by selling underwear at Mall of America – CBS News
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: What is the real definition of proof of concept in your mind? Do you think labs focused on real-world proof will motivate retailers to move faster with new customer experience concepts and technology implementations going forward?