Written by Gloria Dawson
Everything happening to the retail industry today — the decline of brick-and-mortar stores, the rise of ecommerce, and more socially-minded marketing — was expected. Analysts and executives were just off by a decade. The physical stores have closed, many permanently. Consumers now expect more from companies, and their demands are amplified by social media and magnified by a feeling of unrest.
The pandemic and the racial reckoning that coincided with it changed the timetable, but the most successful people in retail were already looking far beyond the next decade.
The retail experience
Take Cassi Pittman Claytor, a sociologist who’s made research on retail racism her life’s work. Her work has never been so in demand. Companies looking to prevent racist incidents, or to perform much-needed PR after one, go to Pittman Claytor for help.
For clients such as Sephora, Pittman Claytor’s research team created models that demonstrate how racism interferes in each step of the customer’s journey, from the moment a consumer realizes they have a need to the moment they make that purchase. Her research brings retailers’ attention to the fact that when a person of color feels uncomfortable and unwelcomed in a store, it can lead to backlash on social media, even a boycott. At a minimum, the experience can create a loss in sales and trust.
People such as Pittman Claytor are helping transform the retail store experience into a more equitable one. But for James Reinhart, Maria Raga, and others in resale space, the goal is to give consumers more control over the store itself. The CEOs of ThredUp and Depop use technology to help consumers start their own resale business. And business is booming: The industry is projected to reach $64 billion by 2025.
The resale industry ties in nicely to two growing themes among consumers — a need to make money and a desire to be more environmentally conscious.
“The future is bright for resale, but we’re staying heads down to figure out more innovative ways to do good for consumers and for the planet,” Reinhart said.
Restaurant resets for the pandemic
Of course, consumers want to buy more than recycled clothes online. E-commerce dictates everything from a consumer’s next meal to their new outfit.
Nick Kokonas has been focusing on dinner for a while now. He balances his time between his high-end restaurants — including Chicago’s Alinea — and his reservation platform Tock. He’s always embraced technology as a way to help restaurants profit (Tock pioneered the prepaid restaurant meal), so when the pandemic hit he was more than ready to help restaurants embrace technology.
“We realized that the only option for any type of restaurant, even the fine-dining ones, was carry-out operations,” Kokonas said. Tock created the prototype for Tock to Go, which includes carry-out and delivery options, take-home experiences, vouchers for future reservations, and groceries, in just five days.
Amazon for fashion
While consumers aren’t dressing up for nights out at high-end restaurants, they’re still buying new garb. And they’re more likely to do their clothes shopping at the same place they buy everything else, on Amazon, thanks to the company’s fashion president Christine Beauchamp.
Although many consumers are opting for comfy clothes, they certainly don’t have to be drab.
Beauchamp has used her years of experience in the fashion industry — at the likes of Ralph Lauren and Victoria’s Secret — to evolve Amazon’s fashion selection to suit the company’s millions of consumers.
And those consumers are loyal. While delivery hiccups and warehouse employees sickened with COVID-19 would put other businesses on the outs with consumers, Amazon consumers stay true.
An analysis from consumer-intelligence firm Resonate, which looked at customers who tend to let their activism drive their shopping decisions, found that these consumers were more likely to be multi-product Amazon customers when compared to the average consumer. Their Amazon habit was viewed as “a necessary evil.”
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