I love the Story story (sorry!) in The Drum this week, mainly because it kind of hypes an idea that, although very sound, is really old. I know, I’ve been promoting and doing this for years and so have plenty of others.

With the advent of on-line shopping off-line retail had to re-examine its reason for being. There is the face to face relationship of course, which I’ve always said was the real differentiator, but it’s what you do with the face-to-face opportunity that really counts and that’s where most retailers have plenty of scope for improvement. However, the other big factor that bricks-and-mortar retailers have in their favour is the wrap-around, touch-it-all experience they can offer that even with 3D goggles an on-line retailer can’t match.

A few years ago I started advising a Saudi-owned retailer. I set them up with an on-line store – as you have to these days – but at the same time, to make more sense of the digital departure, I changed the thinking behind their 260 physical stores. The idea I promoted was of retail stores as theatre and we re-themed the entire store chain every month. This is nothing new in principle of course. It’s what bigger retailers used to do decades ago, department stores like Liberty’s, and Harrods still do (even though they may have lost some of the impact) and even before that, small stores, with a change of window display (remember those!), could and did affect a dramatic change in their “story” as often as they liked.

Many years before the Saudi venture I was working with the Delhaize Group (at that time the fifth biggest supermarket chain in the world) in the Czech market. Supermarkets are a different case entirely, but the idea of a store as a medium has extra meaning when your subject is a supermarket. We introduced ideas like as-live in-store radio (sounded like live radio, but was formatted and recorded to make it far less of an investment and therefore viable), magazines with advertisers that made them self-liquidating, sponsored check-outs and shop-floor staff. Some manufacturers sponsored in-store events and sponsors and advertisers didn’t have to be manufacturers of products that were on the store shelves. With a customer base running into hundreds of thousands and tens of thousands of visitors passing through stores every day the stores and the communications with the customers offer an audience to rival many paid-for media options. In addition it’s targeted and if you are someone like Tesco who really understand these things your targeting can be way beyond anything mainstream media can offer. In all these cases advertisers (or sponsors) carry the cost of staging the events that make the stores entertaining for customers and represent incremental revenue.

What Story in NYC are doing is simply being a modern day off-line retailer and good luck to them. However, the real challenge for retailers these days is to interweave on-line and off-line while giving each a clear purpose and ensuring that the combination generates incremental business. This is what “omnichannel” marketing is all about. On-line isn’t a replacement for physical stores and physical stores are not going to disappear. The two offer different experiences that appeal to different types of customer. Success comes from utilising all channels to broaden your catchment and create synergy or at least generate more revenue than any channel could achieve on its own.

First published on LinkedIn March 2016

Phil Darby
August 3, 2018

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