retail news in context, analysis with attitude

 Digiday has a couple of stories of about different retailers seeking a competitive edge in an uncertain bricks-and-mortar business climate…

First, it writes about Staples, which “no longer wants to be thought of as a place to buy office supplies. In a brand revamp, Staples this week repositioned itself as ‘the Worklife Fulfillment Company,’ or a place where it says workers can feel happy and productive, reminiscent of WeWork.”

The company says that “the focus on Worklife means providing services, products and solutions and an improved digital experience that allows our customers to work wherever, whenever and however they want.” It may or may not mean actually competing with WeWork by opening its own co-working spaces, but here’s how Digiday described the pivot, and evaluated the strategy:

“The pivot to services, including shared-office space, along with agency-style marketing, advertising and other business services, is a way retailers can monetize unused space, generate additional revenue from co-working customers, and build an ongoing relationship beyond one-off interactions or purchases. The co-working market, however, is highly competitive. Beyond industry heavyweights like WeWork and Regis, there are an estimated 200 co-working companies across the U.S. that have at least one location that’s 5,000 square feet, according to real estate company Cushman & Wakefield. Retailers, particularly office-supplies companies, are betting on services and co-working as a means to lock in regular revenue from clients already in their ecosystems.”

Digiday also has a story about retailers “drawing inspiration from Apple’s store model. Apple has built a retail template other stores can borrow from: neat minimal stores with personalized service and experiences, including events and classes. It’s become the default setting for store design makeovers.”

Examples:

“The list of retailers adding elements of Apple’s model keeps expanding and now includes brands like Samsung, AT&T and Verizon, as well as big-box retailers like Kohl’s and Walmart, which rolled out Apple-style associate-assisted checkout around last year’s holiday season. Digital-first beauty brand Glossier, which has stores in New York, Los Angeles and Miami, models its stores as experiential product showrooms, with products neatly laid out in uncluttered open spaces designed for discovery, with careful consideration to lighting and presentation.”

Apple’s store model is seen as “a way to breathe life back into physical stores. A clean, carefully presented selection of products, a help center that resembles a hotel concierge, a space for events and classes, and a cashierless checkout system are some elements retailers are trying to copy. The common denominator is that they’re all aiming to nail an approach to retail that’s predicated on a glitch-free, easy customer experience.”
KC's View:
I guess my initial reaction to this story is that while these retailers are right to think about changing their strategies and tactics, and certainly could do far worse than to model their changes on companies that seem to have tapped into the zeitgeist, I have to wonder if these changes are fundamental or cosmetic.

I do think that focusing on services and solutions is very smart for bricks-and-mortar retailers … because just selling the same stuff that everybody else is selling, stuff that does not differentiate them in any way, strikes me as a questionable way to move forward.