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Remaining Relevant

BY Marianne Wilson

It’s easy these days to get caught up in the frenzy as online sales growth outpaces total retail sales growth. But let’s not lose sight of an important fact: The physical store still remains the most crucial brand touchstone for shoppers. It’s also where the overwhelming majority of retailers still rack up their volume. And according to nearly every reputable forecast, that isn’t likely to change anytime soon.

Yes, consumers love using their phones as retail tools. But they love to go out and shop even more, a fact borne out by survey after survey. According to one of the most recent ones, by technology company Synqera, more than two-thirds (67%) of Americans prefer to shop in brick-and-mortar stores than online.

“All the handwringing over the supposed demise of the physical retail store and challenges like showrooming overshadows one important fact: People still love to shop in stores,” the company wrote on its blog.

“Otherwise, why would technology brands like Apple be so aggressive in making their physical retail space an experience, while others like Microsoft and Samsung push pop-up stores?”

It’s not just technology brands. Pure online specialty retailers are also opening stores. There is no mystery why: It’s difficult for online retailers to duplicate the immediacy and real-time experiences that are the hallmarks of the physical store.

“We’ve heard from our members that being able to see and try on products before they buy is still an important part of the shopping experience for them,” said Adam Goldenberg, co-CEO, JustFab. The online subscription retailer recently opened its first store.

But as much as the digital revolution has not killed the physical store, it has certainly upped the ante, putting a premium on things like customization, convenience and store experience. That’s especially true when it comes to reaching out to Gen Y.

A survey by the Urban Land Institute, “Generation Y: Shipping and Entertainment in the Digital Age,” found that, contrary to popular opinion, Gen Y does most of its purchasing in stores. Other studies reached similar conclusions. The NPD Group found that 53% of millennials shop in-store at least once a week, and 81% of their dollars are spent in stores.

There is a caveat, however.

“Gen Y’ers have grown up with information technology, and they are accustomed to stimulation in the form of music, light, color and action,” said Patrick L. Phillips, CEO, Urban Land Institute. “Retailers need to continually change their looks, services and merchandise offerings in order to keep up with this trend-oriented generation.”

His advice resonates pretty much across the board — not just for retailers looking to appeal to millennial shoppers. Technology has conditioned nearly all of us to want better, faster and more memorable customer experiences, and more personalized and consistent ones as well. Physical stores aren’t going away, but they are changing. Those that don’t do so at their own peril.

Marianne Wilson
[email protected]

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West Elm makes itself at home in Alabama

BY CSA STAFF

Home furnishings retailer West Elm is opening a retail store in Birmingham, Ala., Thursday, Oct. 10 — it’s first ever location in the state.

The nearly 8,000-sq.ft. store located in the Summit Birmingham shopping center will feature the brand’s mix of furniture, home décor, gifts and artist collaborations. The store will also feature an assortment of local handcrafted products sourced through Etsy.com, including one-of-a-kind furniture, lighting, leather goods and wall art.

To celebrate the opening, West Elm collaborated with Birmingham artist Rachel West to create an exclusive tote bag that will be given away to the first 300 shoppers with a minimum purchase of $50. Customers that purchase a West Elm Gallery Frame will receive a complimentary print of Rachel’s Birmingham inspired design until supplies last.

“We are excited to open our first store in Alabama and support the local handcrafted community by featuring the work of Birmingham artisans in our store,” said Jim Brett, president of West Elm. “We recently made a two-year commitment to significantly increase the amount of handcrafted products we offer, and to roll out locally crafted assortments in all of our stores worldwide. Birmingham is in the first group of our stores to offer this assortment. ”

The Birmingham store will open with a preview of the brand’s holiday assortment, which includes décor and gifts in three diverse collections: Enchanted Forest, Snow Drift and New Heritage. At the time of the opening all dining furniture will be 15% off and select lighting pieces will be 20% off.

Additional store opening activities and events include a sweepstakes that offers Birmingham residents a chance to win a $2,000 gift card and an invitation to the opening celebration party taking place on the evening of October 9. The deadline to enter sweepstakes is Oct. 6, 2013.

The opening party will be catered Birmingham’s Hot & Hot Fish Club and a portion of the evening’s proceeds will benefit the city’s Jones Valley Teaching Farm.

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Raley’s, Aisle50 team up to offer loyalty-technology program

BY CSA STAFF

Supermarket chain Raley’s is teaming up with a web portal that offers discounts to members of the chain’s loyalty card program.

Aisle50 announced the partnership with the California-based chain, which will offer it at all its 120 Raley’s Bel Air and Nob Hill Foods locations. Aisle50 works by allowing customers to purchase items online and then pick them up in the store, receiving discounts using their loyalty cards.

"Being a keystone in the northern California market, one of the country’s most tech-savvy, Raley’s is looking to find the best technology and partners to enhance our customers’ lives," Raley’s director of CRM marketing and analytics Tom Hutchison said. "The content from Aisle50 and its direct tie into our rewards program will give Raley’s a unique offering within our markets for a set of consumers that demands it."

Aisle50 also has partnerships with North Carolina-based Lowes Foods, Pennsylvania-based Shop ‘n Save, New York-based D’Agostino and Oklahoma-based Homeland Stores.

"Our technology gives brands a way to convert consumers before they head to the store while also driving more trips and bigger baskets to our retailer partners," Aisle50 cofounder Christopher Steiner said. "We’re excited to get into California and in front of the great set of consumers that Raley’s serves."

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