Ahead of PSFK's "Building Real-World Retail In The Digital Age" panel during the upcoming New York Retail Innovation Week, featured panelists weigh in on the challenges and opportunities facing brick-and-mortar retailers today, as well as the keys to a successful store experience

As ecommerce continues to evolve the manifestation, function and purpose of brick-and-mortar, how can brands and retailers looking to open up shop optimize their square feet? PSFK will examine this question on a live panel this January, where speakers including retail designer Mick McConnell, Roula founder Mark Voysey, Pop Up Grocer founder Emily Schildt, Rockets of Awesome founder Rachel Blumenthal and VP of The Integer Group Alissa Allen will share insights on what store shoppers seek most today, as well as how IRL retailers can pique and sustain their interest.

As a preview of brick-and-mortar questions to be explored in depth, PSFK asked panelists to share their take on how brands can begin to wrap their heads around creating a store, highlighting the importance of offering shoppers clear-cut education through curation, defining a unified purpose and function for the space beyond bringing the brand to life, and explaining why the challenge of opening a store presents an important creative opportunity for established and new retailers alike.

What Consumers Want Out Of In-Store Retail Today

“Physical experience is where one goes to validate rumors of the new.”
—Mick McConnell

Today's consumers want a clearly defined retail experience that provides a valuable service, and don't necessarily need an extremely interactive or rich experience—which can sometimes be too complex, emphasizes McConnell. Rather, they want clear, expertly curated opportunities to discover new products in particular, and interact with a trusted guide to validate any investment they may make, adds Emily Schildt. “In many cases, creating opportunities to highlight new products, collaborations, and innovations is the ultimate brief from retail brands,” McConnell writes, while Schildt explains that the opportunity in physical retail lies in a store's capacity to “curate a limited selection that helps narrow the clutter of the internet.”

The Challenges Facing Store Openers Also Provide Growth Opportunities

“I think the biggest challenge is also the most exciting part: we’re in the midst of a renaissance in retail. It isn’t dead—it’s just changing. This means there is a great amount of opportunity for creativity and experimentation.”
—Emily Schildt

The challenges are steep: The cost of renting square feet is only continuing to climb, and the risk of making a longer-term investment, especially for newer brands, is equally high. Further, sustaining engagement after the ‘newness' of the experience wears off is difficult for many to achieve, reminds Schildt.

One route many brands are taking around these issues is exploring the short-term popup, which offers several advantages to both landlords and retailers. The ephemeral store gives brands a way to increase awareness and flex their creative muscles, enabling engagement in new ways—elements that both Schildt and McConnell point out. Further, established and new brands alike can profit from the nebulous definition and malleable format of popups, instead tailoring the location to their needs and choosing a particular function as part and parcel of an omnichannel strategy.

Key Steps For Opening And Designing A Store Today

“Set yourself up to sell and you’ve set yourself up to fail. Gone are the days where successful retail stores are built for a monetary transactional exchange—we have that more conveniently from the comfort of our homes. Start instead from a place of value.”
—Emily Schildt

Consistency and unification on multiple fronts are priority, according to several panelists. McConnell mentions the importance of fostering a unified team understanding of the location's purpose: “The key to successful long-term retail is having everyone involved in the location on board and in agreement on the entire life cycle and terms.” Meanwhile, Mark Voysey speaks to the importance of making a thorough first impression: “Ensure the audience appropriate relevance from the moment they approach your physical brand, cross the threshold, are greeted and interact with what will likely be the first human contact they’ve had with your brand.”

Schildt and McConnell both draw attention to minimizing the risk inherent in opening up shop. “Test in a market that includes your target demographic, but won’t denigrate the brand. Don’t launch on Main and Main if you are still testing models of retail. Try things, iterate, improve, then re-launch,” says McConnell. Schildt speaks to shifting focus from sales to fostering meaning, not only to set realistic expectations but also to concentrate on what is distinct from a brand's other channels like ecommerce—which may remain the primary sales funnel. She encourages retailers to ask, “What can a physical space offer to strengthen the relationship you have with your existing customers, and to help make more meaningful connections to new ones?”

Voysey finishes by summing up the importance of executing on purpose as key: “Focus on your brand's ‘why,’ and use that to execute your storytelling throughout the entire physical journey.”

For more insights and an in-depth discussion on everything brands considering opening their first store should know, come hear from a range of experts in retail, design, strategy and more by signing up for PSFK's “Building Real-World Retail In The Digital Age Panel,” tickets available now.

As ecommerce continues to evolve the manifestation, function and purpose of brick-and-mortar, how can brands and retailers looking to open up shop optimize their square feet? PSFK will examine this question on a live panel this January, where speakers including retail designer Mick McConnell, Roula founder Mark Voysey, Pop Up Grocer founder Emily Schildt, Rockets of Awesome founder Rachel Blumenthal and VP of The Integer Group Alissa Allen will share insights on what store shoppers seek most today, as well as how IRL retailers can pique and sustain their interest.