From physical stores to the metaverse, what retail execs are thinking about in 2022

May 03, 2022 Windstream Enterprise 4 min

Editor’s Note: Digital evolution is top-of-mind for retail executives in 2022. The new standard in retail is an omnichannel experience that blends online and in-person shopping, offering customers the best of both worlds, without boundaries or friction. This approach is proving to be a crucial part of earning and maintaining customer loyalty in the new retail landscape, since it’s easier than ever for customers to alter their habits and seek alternatives. Technology can reduce friction for customers and break down barriers, but only if you have the right resources and the right partner.

Summary: Companies are navigating some fast-moving industry changes, with brick and mortar making a rebound as shoppers venture back into stores expecting them to serve as both destinations for a unique shopping journey and as fulfillment centers.

After two years of virtual meetings, Shoptalk U.S.’s attendance this year hit a historic high for its first in-person gathering since the pandemic began, with more modest attendance expectations for its twin event in London in June. 

With more than 10,000 attendees and more than 600 sponsors and exhibitors, “Retail’s Big Reunion” in Las Vegas hosted more than 275 panelists and executives from companies like Macy’s, Uber, Pacsun and Walgreens, who shared insight and lessons on what it means to navigate some of retail’s most complicated issues. 

But there were consistent themes across all five tracks offered at the March event. From the physical store comeback to partnerships, execs shared insight on how companies are navigating fast-moving industry changes. 

Welcome back brick and mortar 

As states relax COVID-19 restrictions, shoppers are venturing back into stores. While the confluence of bankruptcy, the economy (before and during the pandemic) and government mandates contributed to store closures, brick and mortar is making a rebound. 

Even before the pandemic, consumers expressed a desire for a new kind of shopping experience. Experts say the pandemic compounded it. With an uptick in delivery services and curbside pickup, executives and experts said shoppers are expecting stores to serve as both destinations for a unique shopping journey and as fulfillment centers. 

Wayfair’s Chief Marketing Officer Bob Sherwin said at Shoptalk that with the opening of its three new stores, the DTC home goods retailer is creating a “new kind of omnichannel shopping experience that blurs the line between online and offline.”  

“Whether our customers begin their journey in a store and then purchase online, or vice versa, our focus is on creating a seamless shopping experience at every customer touch point. Our physical retail stores will complement all that we are doing in e-commerce, allowing us to engage with our customers and bring our brands to life in a new way,” Sherwin said. 

Retailers enter the metaverse 

Whether companies have charted a clear path for how they will connect with consumers using the metaverse like Pacsun President Brieane Olson, or if they’re still figuring out their place in it, the common theme among many executives at Shoptalk was that the metaverse can’t be ignored.  

Retailers are connecting with consumers in the metaverse in a variety of ways. For example, by creating a virtual world where they can build their own stores, meet friends, role play and even make purchases like Forever 21’s experience on Roblox. Tommy Hilfiger, DKNY, Estée Lauder, Karl Lagerfeld and Alexander McQueen participated in Decentraland’s Metaverse Fashion Week this March.  

A common theme among retail executives is that the metaverse can’t be ignored. 

Olson, a keynote speaker at Shoptalk, said, “Roblox is the best platform for socialization” and is how her company connects and engages with a younger audience. 

“If you’re not thinking about it, you’re behind already,” Marie Driscoll, managing director of luxury and fashion at Coresight Research, said of the metaverse. 

Consumer loyalty 

Retaining the ever-elusive customer was among the most discussed pain points at Shoptalk 2022.  

According to a 2021 report from management consulting firm McKinsey & Company, more than 75% of consumers have altered their buying habits since the start of the pandemic, while 39% have switched brands or the retailers they shop with. 

So how do you retain brand loyalty? 

Christiane Pendarvis, co-president and chief merchant at Savage X Fenty, said the key is building authentic connections with consumers.  

“For us, it all stems from being true to who our brand is,” Pendarvis said. And although the brand has a visible superstar founder like Rihanna as its face, she said that commitment is “still uniquely Savage. It always comes back to, ‘Are we being true to our brand identity?’” 

Creative partnerships 

Partnerships have become something of a trend in retail. 

Think Target and Ulta, or Casper and Bed, Bath & Beyond. The decision for a brand to open shop-in-shop locations means reaching new customers and further deepening consumer loyalty. 

Among the most talked about partnerships was that of Toys”R”Us and Macy’s.  

The Macy’s partnership with Toys”R”Us grew out of an opportunity to expand its off-price Backstage segment when the toy category became a standout.  

Creative partnerships are allowing retailers to leverage the best of an organization.

“The Toys”R”Us experience and the Macy’s experience is one of a kind, and when you put the two together… suddenly it’s an overnight success,” Toys”R”Us CEO Yehuda Shmidman said. 

Shmidman said at Shoptalk that the company, which over four years ago suffered a bankruptcy and the mass liquidation of hundreds of stores, is “growing over 50%,” adding that through partnerships, “we’re really able to leverage the best of an organization.” 

When it comes to data sharing, Shmidman said, “all those decisions are made through the prism of partnership. Ultimately it’s the customer in mind.” 

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This article was written by Stephanie Arnold from Retail Dive and was legally licensed through the Industry Dive Content Marketplace. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@industrydive.com.

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