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  • Writer's pictureBrendan Howard

Don't Surrender Retailers, Make Your Bricks and Mortar a Destination

Updated: Aug 9, 2021

As a producer of printed signs and point-of-purchase displays for retailers, I am often asked how online purchasing is affecting a Printer’s role in traditional retailing. For reference, I ‘one-click buy’ on Amazon in under 4 seconds of wanting something so you might think I’d foresee online retail to quickly supplant bricks and mortar retail. However, I hold an opposing view: Though buying items online is convenient, fast, and otherwise amazing, there are fundamental experiential gaps that will hamper its supremacy. When one looks at the data, many are surprised to see that online sales still only have a single digit market share of total retail sales, and that in Canada, the share is not likely to reach 10% until 2020 (1). I predict that online retail will eat into traditional share for a while and then more of us will realize online retail without a bricks and mortar counterpart has real drawbacks. We will increasingly long for the sense of connectedness that only real physical retail holds. Those that successfully integrate the digital world with a welcoming physical environment aided by static displays and great customer experience will create a winning ‘omni-channel’ path-to-purchase that pleases ‘showroomers’ and other consumer segments alike. Why Online Retail will overshoot (and why Print will remain relevant)

I'm told that when I become an old wise man I won't miss the convenience of buying crackers online. But, I will miss strolling down the grocery aisle with my pajama-clad 4-year old, singing “Moana” ballads. How could I experience this joy if I shopped online? (Side note: I shamelessly enjoy the illogical double standard of how it is 'cute' for fathers to be unkempt with their kids in public, while mothers are unfairly judged if their kids aren't always put together.) People either look to retail for purely utilitarian buying or to feel stimulation and a sense of community. Though 'print,' fixtures and displays play a supporting role in this process, they are critical in engendering the familiar, dynamic environment of bricks and mortar retail. What do retailers need to do to win? (and why Print matters)

Keep it simple You can't give me enough $1 meatballs to go to IKEA for pleasure. I go to IKEA to say 'yes/no' and lift things. Why would I order a 100-pound IKEA TV stand, go through the agony of setup, only to realize that I don't like it in my house? Thus, I try to be in and out of IKEA quickly and try to defy the odds of getting into a husband-and-wife argument. I recently went to an IKEA after our team had worked on the customer guidance signage and you know what, it was enjoyable and productive. The layout was a nice balance of Scandinavian chic and efficiency. The clear, fun and inviting signage guided me through the labyrinth that defines IKEA. Buying some things online doesn’t make sense and making it simple, tolerable and utilitarian can make the experience satisfying for unenthusiastic shoppers like me.

Be awesome Alternatively, traditional retail has a chance to be awesome. I work with an agency who made a display for a Canadian Nike Hockey Campaign at a Sport Check public space. They suspended hundreds of individually printed 'pieces' of a goalie from the ceiling so that when one looked at it all from one specific angle 10 meters away, it all came together as one homogeneous image. If you moved a step to the right, it looked like a group of random pieces. This stuck in my head and, after seeing it, I bought my son a jersey from Sport Chek for Christmas. Bring back the community My wife gives thoughtful gifts that get neutral responses initially, but her gifts quickly move to the top of the remember-in-case-of-fire list. She recently had the idea of a personalized necklace for my sister. I said just buy it on Etsy. Instead, she found a local custom shop to make it. The staff and environment evoked memories of her close expat friends and she felt reconnected. I later went into the store, and as I do, inspected the elegant wall murals, cut-out lettering and easel-backed signage that engendered the familiar motif of her and her crafty friends’ abodes. For all the innovations Etsy and its ilk come up with, connectedness and ambiance can’t really be replicated in an online world. Nor can digital displays and automatic checkouts ever create connectedness in the physical world. Where will it all end Despite my plea, I think we might learn this the hard way as with other facets of our life – people are getting lonelier despite being more ‘connected.’ In time, I will heed the advice of my technophobic mother-in-law who manages a local store which weaves together a tightly knit community. I will long for the real, authentic and human. Fight for it retailers. Your task is to do more than just sell things. Create experiences. Make your store an opening, welcoming hand. Design it to satisfy the deeper human needs your customers have. Make people's lives more fulfilling and fun. Embrace and integrate the digital world but don't forget about the analog world while doing so. Brendan Howard is a Partner at Ciel Capital and an Operating Executive at Category 5 Imaging.


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