Catering to a growing number of 'micro small-business' customers and millennials, the company aims to turn shipping into a memorable retail experience, and bring the shipping store into the 21st century

Despite threats of disruption, it’s an exciting time to be in the shipping and logistics industry. As online shopping booms, the expeditious shipping and receiving of packages becomes an increasingly crucial segment of the retail journey. However, it’s still not a very sexy industry: the average consumer likely views shipping as simply transactional, a necessary evil that is often inconvenient and never quick enough.

With a new marketing and retail strategy, “Beyond Shipping,”  The UPS Store is attempting to reinvent and reinvigorate the shipping experience, Michelle Van Slyke, senior vice president of marketing and sales at The UPS Store, told PSFK.

The implementation of that strategy is designed to start bringing the shipping retailer's 5,000 North American locations into the 21st century.

The company faces the uphill battle of transforming a needs-based business into a memorable retail experience, delivering personalized service catered to each customer’s specific demands. But the rise of e-commerce gives it an advantage over consumer-facing competitors like USPS. “Package shipping is trending more than snail mail is,” Van Slyke told PSFK.

The UPS Store has strategically identified a different customer and their needs: the small business owner or individual entrepreneur. There are 28.9 million micro-small businesses currently operating in the U.S., defined as those with five or fewer employees. Meanwhile, peer-to-peer platforms like Etsy, eBay, Depop and dozens of others have exploded in recent years, with consumers of all ages and all over the world building entrepreneurial careers off individual selling.

The company discovered this specific growing demand following an in-depth analysis of feedback from both current customers and those unfamiliar with the store. “We learned that there are major misconceptions about our store environment about all the services and things we can do,” says Van Slyke.

With “Beyond Shipping,” The UPS Store has tailored new retail efforts to meet the needs of the solo entrepreneur or micro-small business owner, using a targeted marketing and social-media campaign to highlight features such as printing and faxing in addition to packaging and shipping.

Doubling down on brick and mortar in a volatile retail landscape, the UPS subsidiary is betting on its new store design to drive sales and build customer trust. “We’re in test mode right now, says Van Slyke, “We’ve been learning and we’ll be continuing to learn,” as the company rolls out more new format stores. The new UPS Store, piloted so far in five locations throughout Southern California and North Carolina, is designed to appeal to the expectations of a younger consumer, who came of age in an Uberized era of always-on service and endless options. “We’re attracting a more diverse customer, and a younger small business owner,” Van Slyke says.

In a bid to take the space beyond the transactional, The UPS Store is moving away from its traditional brick and mortar format, which separated customers and associates into a clearly delineated back and front areas. Now, an open space invites customers to feel comfortable, with tables to encourage one-on-one conversations with store staff. Seeing what happens to a package, rather that seeing it disappear into the back of a store, lends the experience a sense of transparency that will, hopefully, translate into increased customer trust and long-term loyalty.

“It’s been quite interesting to see a regular customer walk into one of the test stores,” Van Slyke says, describing the surprise for customers who come to the store for the first time. To appeal to the millennial eye, the new design is more colorful and inviting. “It has a workshop feel,” Van Slyke continues, “we still get things done for customers. But now it’s more warm, bright, and engaging.”

All UPS Stores are independent, owned and operated by individual franchisees. Van Slyke emphasizes the advantage this gives the company when opening and developing retail locations, as each store can be customized to its specific location and demographics. Franchisees have the opportunity to create stronger relationships with individual customers, while a flexible design lends itself to any space. “The new design really is configurable, regardless of angles of walls, floor space, ceiling. It’s really adaptable, which I think is key for any retail environment,” she says.

Though new features such as 24-hour package mailboxes take a swipe at USPS' market share and parent company UPS continues to compete for the business of major online retailers like Amazon and Walmart, the “Beyond Shipping” strategy is a brand-building exercise to differentiate the UPS Store from its brick and mortar competition. After all, as Van Slyke says, “in an e-commerce world, it’s all about moving the package.”