Earning traffic during the retail decline

Retail business is being crushed – no surprise to anyone studying their local markets, watching the news or even driving in their neighborhood. Stores are closing and brands are going bankrupt. Strong brands like Macy’s, Lululemon and Ralph Lauren are suffering. Weaker brands like Sports Authority and Payless are suffering even worse.

There are some theories about why. Amazon. Experiences. Did we mention Amazon? But the fact is that people are spending less time going to stores. The build out of restaurants across the US was aligned with the buildout of retail. Creating destinations that would attract people (shoppers) called for restaurants that allowed them to refuel and extend their shopping trip. Now, traditional anchor tenants are shutting down making malls empty husks. Developers are scrambling to rethink the space they’ve got so much invested in.

What will be the memorable touch that your staff provides that will earn five stars on Yelp and a repeat visit?

Multi-unit restaurant brands have lost the natural traffic from their retail neighbors. Considering the extreme die-off in retail, restaurant sales are remaining fairly strong.

Experiences built for sharing.

One theory for the drop in retail is that people are spending more on experiences. Specifically the kind of experiences that make them look good on social media. Experience has become a buzzword, generating cottage industries of specialists and consultants. It doesn’t have to be that complicated. What in your restaurant is worth posting to Instagram? What’s on the menu that will break through the Facebook feed and go viral. What will be the memorable touch that your staff provides that will earn five stars on Yelp and a repeat visit?

We are seeing strong, established retail players really ask themselves if they are offering something worth visiting. Is the experience worth the trip? Would you invite someone to come along? Would you share it to social media in a non-snarky way? Brands need to look in the mirror and accept what they provide and its value. The brands that do will have a chance to create experiences that people will travel for.

Delivery as an extension not a replacement.

If people won’t be coming to you, you can go to them. But one flaw with the current trend of delivery services is the lifeless exchange with the brand itself. Hospitality provided by the restaurant is gone. The experience is provided by a proxy. Staff and servers are critical to earning repeat customers, so what happens when they’re eliminated from the transaction? And a transaction is all it becomes.

Another reason that retail has fallen off is that online retailers have found ways to mimic the service and personal touch of live staff. They’ve eliminated barriers. Restaurant brands must find ways to extend the experience in a delivery environment. What touches can be added to make delivery from your brand memorable and differentiated? While people are keen to share images of their meal at the table in your restaurant, they’re very rarely interested in sharing an image of food that’s been delivered, unless something’s gone terribly wrong. Give them a reason to get excited about the brand from their own home.

One interesting thing about people is that we always think we’re watching the third act. What is happening to malls today isn’t necessarily the final state of American retail. Building malls as a center for commerce was one phase. The web was a second. Mobile is still impacting things today. Technology like self-driving vehicles will change shopping in ways we haven’t yet considered.

The brands that are positioned for growth aren’t the ones going all in on what we know today. They are the ones who are creating plans that will be adaptable going forward.