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Is 2018 the Year for Indie Retailers? Survey Says: Yes — Here’s Why

by • September 26, 2017 • Merchandising + TrendsComments Off on Is 2018 the Year for Indie Retailers? Survey Says: Yes — Here’s Why11643

Gap, Toys “R” Us, Macy’s, Sears, The Limited — 2017 has already been a massive year for store closings at malls and big chains. This means that indie shops’ positive impact on local communities is now more important — and, thankfully, more appreciated — than ever. Read on to discover the key trends driving the indie brick-and-mortar renaissance.

With dozens of stores closing and declaring bankruptcy in 2017, one would think that brick-and-mortar retail has finally succumbed to the global e-commerce onslaught.

In fact, the opposite is true.

According to a recent study released by IBM and the National Retail Federation, almost all members of Generation Z prefer to shop in brick-and-mortar stores despite expectations that the first “digitally native” generation would want to shop online.

Indeed, 98% of Gen Zers still shop in-store.

First off, who is Generation Z?

  • 14-19-year-olds born after 1995 — this is a big buying group
  • Gen Z is constantly browsing online, and they make unplanned store visits
  • Product selection and access is key*
  • Visibility on sales floor is also key, but make sure displays aren’t clinical
  • They’re price-conscious, so don’t hide tags
  • Content: information on what you’re selling is important

*source – Fitch Research

Despite the e-commerce and social media revolution, 91% of total retail sales are still generated in brick-and-mortar stores (A.T. Kearney). And, for each company that closed stores in 2017, another 2.7 actually opened stores.

Think Local: 78% of all local Google searches on mobile result in a purchase in-store within 24 hours (Google).

Digital platforms have transformed how consumers shop, but the real-life shopping experience is still essential to closing the deal. This bodes well for all retailers, especially the local independents with a unique point of view and curated product mix.

Read the Insider’s Crossover Buying Guide and find out why a diverse product mix, smartly merchandised together, is the key to retail success.

The Indie Shop-Meets-Amazon Opportunity

At the most recent ASD Market Week this past August, retail expert Cathy Wagner of RETAILMavens said the following during one of her talks:

“Brick and mortar isn’t dead — BAD brick and mortar is.”

Wagner went on to say that “Amazon has actually left a void in the customer experience that only and offline shop can give — and that presents a huge opportunity.”

Speaking of Amazon, by now we all know they purchased Whole Foods specifically to increase their offline (read: customer experience) footprint — as well as to access customer data and brand lift in the grocery category.

Nordstrom New “Experience” Concept

Beginning this October, the Nordstrom department store chain is rolling out an entirely new concept: 3,000 square foot shops — significantly smaller than the typical 140,000 square feet of their conventional stores — that don’t carry any merchandise. Instead, shoppers can try on clothes curated by “experts,” get manicures, and even order drinks.

Nordstrom concept store

According to CNBC, “slimming down in size has certainly been a big trend in the world of retail of late. [Nordstrom’s] latest strategy to move towards smaller locations shows how the company is battling retail headwinds.”

Target is also taking the same approach.

Indie brick and mortar for the win: Smaller locations with localized products and personalized customer experience is at the core of the of indie retail experience.

Smashbox Beauty Opens Community Space

Beauty brand Smashbox just opened its first U.S. store in Venice, California, designed to look like a studio where people can try on makeup, take photos, and enjoy an engaging offline community experience.

Indie brick-and-mortar shop owners can take advantage of the beauty market, too. Read ASD’s Business of Beauty: 6 Trends That Are Driving Consumer Spending. 

Fact: Millennials are fueling the experience economy. In a recent Eventbrite survey, 78% said that “experiences beat things.”

How T.J. Maxx and Marshalls Ignored the Internet and Won

According to Bloomberg News and The Seattle Times, T.J. Maxx and Marshalls “don’t care about online sales because their businesses are based on the real-life retail experience. Inventory shifts regularly, so no visit is the same — the promise of discovering great items on the cheap is what draws shoppers inside.”

Mickey Chadha, an analyst at Moody’s Investor Service, also speaks to the importance of their product and pricing: “The product is right at the right price. Online is only as good as the product.”

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GlobalShop’s Path to Purchase research found that 90% of retail journeys still end in a retail store, even those that begin online. People like to shop; they enjoy the convenience of shopping online, but nothing beats being on a sales floor surrounded by great product.

“Shopping is a social experience, with an emphasis on the word, ‘experience.’ No one does that better than independent retailers who scout the marketplace to find just the right merchandise they know their customers will love. People have been predicting the demise of brick and mortar stores for as long as we can remember. Stores may change over the years but they will never go away.” – Georganne Bender & Rich Kizer, Retail Consultants

The Limited, American Apparel, and Macy’s Closed Hundreds of Stores

In 2017, The Limited began closing all 250 of its stores, while American Apparel closed all of its 110 locations; Macy’s also set about closing 68 of its stores nationwide. Earlier this month, Gap Inc. also announced it would be closing 200 Gap and Banana Republic stores.  

Wait, so if brick-and-mortar stores are closing, how does it help my shop? Read on.


american apparel closing

Last December, Bloomberg News reported The Limited was likely headed for liquidation. Liz Dunn, chief executive of retail consulting firm Talmage Advisors, says The Limited has suffered from its inability to keep up with trends.

“Shoppers are looking for things that are hyper-relevant to what’s going on in fashion right now — and as inexpensive as possible,” explains Dunn.

What This Means for You: An Abundance of Retail Talent Available for You to Hire

Did American Apparel and The Limited get too big, too fast with not enough focus on trending product? Most analysts say The Limited’s closing was due to a lack of product focus and investment in the store and customer experience. By contrast, eyeglass brand Warby Parker plans to open another new 25 retail stores this year in the U.S. 

And don’t forget Amazon’s quiet expansion into brick-and-mortar bookstores.

This means that there’s a whole lot of experienced retail talent now available for hire. This would be a great time to place those want ads.

Make Every Customer Visit Count

It’s key to pay close attention to your offline experience and how it integrates with your online and social media presence. Get the most out of each customer visit and focus on your product margins (higher the better).

Focus on affordable, high-margin product and the customer experience. Take care of and nurture your best customers and drive foot traffic to your shop via offline events and social media. Take advantage of the brick-and-mortar resurgence — and leverage your shop’s status as a local, community destination.

How do you give people new and exciting ways to experience your shop? Check out Georganne Bender’s Visual Merchandising Cheat Sheet for tips on creating displays that make buyers look harder, shop longer, and spend more.

Looking to gain more knowledge like this and fill your shop with the right high-margin inventory? Don’t miss ASD Market Week, featuring the largest wholesaler beauty, fashion, gifts, and accessories show on the West Coast, March 11 – 14, 2018 in Las Vegas. Meanwhile, follow ASD on Instagram.


By Jed Wexler

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