Retailing 141: Specialty Stores Are Alive and Well!
For customer experiences and preferences, small retailers have attributes that online and chain stores just can’t match.
Lots of attention is given to bigger chain stores when they close because, presumably, these store closings define the overall health of brick-and-mortar retail. But that’s too narrow a scope to take. More often, it’s not that physical stores will melt away into oblivion to give way to pure e-commerce, but it’s the lack of relevance of certain stores.
Starbucks, Wal-Mart and Apple have planned huge new store openings this year. Expansion in both domestic and international markets is under way by the largest U.S. retail chains. And global retailers like H&M, Zara and Uniqlo are expanding into the U.S., attracted by the diverse consumer base, personal income growth and resilient economy.
At this point and beyond, there seems to be solid evidence that brick-and-mortar retailing is still thriving for those retailers with relevant offerings and sustainable business models.
According to RBC Capital Markets data, U.S. retailers are in the midst of opening 76,000 stores in the next two years.
Growing retailers are all about relevance and niche lifestyle — specialty sport and fitness, fast fashion, food, and pharmacy — and focus on what consumers care about most, including value, quality, health, the environment, and customer service. These retailers focus on and promote their differences: by rewarding loyal customers; creating a sense of urgency; and being savvy when it comes to social media, technology and marketing. Shopping their stores is an exciting and noteworthy experience.
Preference for Physical Stores
A study done by ICSC (International Council of Shopping Centers) found that consumers prefer physical stores to online shopping for nearly every tested reason to shop. This filters down to the specialty store, too, where you can really play up your attributes.
Tennis-playing consumers are like most shoppers in that they enjoy the shopping “experience” — even if they already know what they want. Window and floor displays are tools for enhancing this experience — they’re more powerful than social media tools for communicating product information.
Online and omni-channel is here to stay, and while consumers will actively mix both online and brick-and-mortar purchasing, they also want to shop local. You can leverage the strength of your physical store to deliver what the consumer wants, so give them a reason to:
- Focus on unique attributes like physical displays.
- If you have great stringers on board, great gear selection, a demo program, a loyalty program, make it known.
- Create interactive displays provide mobile accessibility and payments — that’s a big draw that enables you to compete with the bigger guys.
The enhancement of categories like sporting goods will be extremely important as shops distinguish themselves from humdrum online shopping. It’s true that while your customers will remain price-sensitive, you have to boldly communicate a blended message of value, selection, convenience, customer service and experience.
Get to know your customers by name, what their kids are up to … emphasize service by offering to get equipment back to your customers before their next match — maybe even offer to drop racquets off to peoples’ homes. No online shopping source can provide that kind of personalized service.
With manufacturers setting pricing policies across online and brick-and-mortar stores, the amount consumers save by buying tennis gear online isn’t much, despite the common misconception from shoppers.
Think of the shopper who’s looking for shoes who has bad knees and other pains. Your experienced staff has the ability to fit them for the proper shoes and, perhaps, orthotics, which will vastly improve their physical well-being and as a result, their game, for which they may be eternally grateful. This is a service to publicize!
Niche specialty retailers like tennis shops have many positive attributes — not least is that their customers simply don’t like faceless purchasing, and prefer the smaller-shop experience.
See all articles by Cynthia Sherman
About the Author
Cynthia Sherman is a contributing editor for Tennis Industry magazine.
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