Are Costco, Sam’s Club and BJ’s Wholesale doomed? According to an article in the Washington Post, millennial and Gen Z shoppers –the future of retail — haven’t warmed to the warehouse superstores in the way baby boomer and Gen X customers have. The article cites a millennial shopper who doesn’t want to schlep to the store to buy toilet paper, and a 50-year-old who says she loves Costco, but admits she’s one of the younger customers in the store. (The average Costco member is younger than they were a few years ago, but still two years older than the average American, the article says.)
This concern about Costco illustrates something more than just a generational divide. It shows a change in the way people shop. In its 2018 trend forecast, Vend identifies the issue as “cherish” vs. “chore” shopping.
Shopping for things you have to buy — like toilet paper or sponges — is a chore. Increasingly, consumers are turning to Amazon and other subscription shopping services to make chore shopping less painful by taking it online. In 2018, “offerings like auto-renewals, one-tap purchases and same-day delivery [will streamline the] chore or routine component of shopping,” Vend predicts. In fact, as more people adopt voice assistants such as Alexa to help them order commodity products, chore shopping will even become a bit fun (or at least less onerous).
This is bad news for small retailers who sell routine products — but not for all retailers. “The provide an experience to cherish — the part that involves discovering great products and socializing — won’t be going away,” Vend asserts. That type of shopping is not a chore, but something customers enjoy.
This “cherish” shopping is hard to do online. Sure, you can discover millions of great products online, but what happens when you want to compare fabric quality between two different shirts, or see what color that luxury lipstick is in real life — not just on your computer screen? And, if you’ve ever tried to sort through hundreds of almost-exactly-the-same items on an online shopping site, you know how overwhelming it gets. Finally, no matter how much you text, FaceTime or Snapchat your friends while you’re shopping, there’s no substitute for “in real lie” (or IRL) interaction while you’re assessing possible purchases.
As a result, physical stores will still have a crucial role in American life. In fact, Vend predicts a more “vibrant and diverse” future with more, not fewer, independent retail stores. If you can provide an experience to cherish, you can be one of them.
Here are three elements Vend cites in the “cherished” retail store of 2018:
Carefully curated: No matter how good an ecommerce website’s sort and filter features are, wading through hundreds of product photos gets tiring. (Even Costco, after all, offers a limited selection in each category of its wares.) Your curated brick-and-mortar retailers offer consumers a glimpse at your unique sensibility based on what products you think are worthy of inclusion.
Artisan-made: The continued popularity of artisanal items reflects America’s hunger for uniqueness. One-of-a-kind products from local artisans are made to be cherished. Even mass-produced products can give your store a competitive edge if they’re sourced from local manufacturers or designers. You can show your support for other independent businesses and give customers a reason to patronize your store.
Technology-enabled: Today’s artisan brick-and-mortar store may look as rustic as a general store from the 1800s, but that’s just a façade for the high-tech elements that make it all run smoothly. For the in-store experience to be something to cherish, you have to make the purchasing process as pleasant as it can be. Using mobile devices to ring up purchases, for example, not only speeds up service but also creates a more personal interaction than standing on the other side of a bulky cash register. Digital loyalty programs help you give customers personalized recommendations.
There’s been a lot of talk about the death of retail — and if you sell toilet paper or tube socks, you probably do have something to worry about. But if you can make your store a place that your customers cherish visiting, the future looks bright.