Retail stores playing a new role in society
Retail stores are starting to play a new role in society, according to Jim Lucas of brand marketing agency, Draft, who says that drug stores are fast becoming 'wellness centres' and supermarkets are becoming increasingly lifestyle-oriented.
These are some of the trends that Lucas identified at a seminar held recently by the Chicago Advertising Federation. "Retailers and marketers are aggressively changing the face of retail," explained Lucas, who is the director of strategic planning and research at the Chicago office of Draft. "They are also changing the very expectations and behaviour of shoppers. We're seeing a whole new look and feel emerge in stores, cinemas, fast food chains, and other retail environments."
Lucas said that changes in the USA's retail environment are making today's stores one of the richest and most complex vehicles for communicating with consumers. "In a cluttered, fragmented media environment," he continued, "the store now plays a prominent role as both medium and a mediator between the brand and the consumer."
Determining consumer choice According to Lucas, the proliferation of choices available and the growth of personal style possibilities are creating a new kind of store that acts as a 'choice editor' for shoppers.
"Large supermarket chains such as A&P and Shoprite play a different role in training and engaging customers than retailers such as Whole Foods or Trader Joe's," Lucas noted. "Think about the kinds of products you see in these latter stores. They are really serving as 'choice editors' for their shoppers. A large part of what their brand stands for is communicated through limiting the brands and types of products they carry. Contrast that with a large supermarket chain where offering more choice is their hallmark."
Lucas feels supercentres and warehouse clubs are giving shoppers more options, and causing supermarkets to lose their dominance as a leading retail channel. Meanwhile, drug store chains have changed their stores and, in turn, have helped shape consumer habits.
"Walgreens, CVS, and Rite Aid have developed real estate strategies that establish the drug store as a destination," he explained. "This created a shift in thinking among their mostly female consumer base, which now tends to view the drug store as the equivalent of a convenience store," he said.
Missing opportunities According to Lucas, consumer packaged goods (CPG) manufacturers are missing opportunities with other retail outlets, like 'dollar stores', where the majority of Americans will shop during the course of a year. such companies have largely ignored this potentially lucrative area.
However, the more upscale stores are already taking aggressive steps to attract consumers. For example, Zara, a Spanish apparel chain with a network of 626 stores across 46 countries, is helping to revolutionise the apparel industry with a rapid re-stocking strategy, providing new, fresh looks every two to three weeks. "Zara is essentially offering consumers a whole new store every two weeks," Lucas explained. "Shoppers are encouraged to revisit so they can take advantage of what's new. And if shoppers see something they like, they know they have to buy it there and then - because they it may not be there in two weeks."
Retail ecology "Retail environments are all very different, and there is a need to understand how shoppers interact with specific environments," Lucas concluded. "Once the ecology of the retail space is known and understood, it can be used to make the shopping trip more efficient, more intuitive, and more effective for shoppers."
Lucas also highlighted an effective trend toward grouping products by lifestyle instead of by category. "Rather than working through traditional category management, like putting all the shampoos together and all the skin creams together, retailers can create 'lifestyle clusters' within their stores." Upscale stores have done so for some time but even mass-market chains should now be incorporating this concept into their retail strategies.