What Makes Retail Remarkable

Author, strategic adviser and speaker Steve Dennis, president of SageBerry Consulting, recently released an expanded and revised edition of his book “Remarkable Retail: How to Win & Keep Customers in the Age of Disruption.”

The book, published by LifeTree Media, reframes changes in the retail industry in the context of COVID-19. Dennis said the pandemic didn’t cause the challenges facing merchants and brands but “dramatically accelerated them, collapsing transformation timelines into a matter of months, not years.” Here, Dennis discusses the updated book, and what’s driving change across retail.

WWD: You’ve done a lot of updating throughout this edition; can you briefly explain how COVID-19 changed retail?

Steve Dennis: For years, I’ve been imploring those retailers stuck in the boring, unremarkable middle — that is, neither offering great value and convenience, nor offering anything truly memorable from a product, service or experience standpoint — to change radically or risk being made irrelevant by the forces of disruption. The pandemic has collapsed the timelines for transformation dramatically.

Moreover, more retailers are waking up to the reality that the lines between digital and physical commerce are blurring; that there really is no such thing as online shopping and brick-and-mortar shopping — it’s all just commerce.

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WWD: What is the role of physical retail today? Why is it important for consumers to have an in-store experience?

S.D.: Most brick-and-mortar locations serve multiple roles. Most obviously, they have well-known and important advantages over pure online shopping: the ability to see, touch and try on products; receive in-person sales help, and get immediate gratification, and so on.

The book was released earlier this month. 

Retailers with deep customer insight also know that stores serve as brand advertising, regardless of where the customer ultimately transacts. Increasingly, though, stores are becoming more diverse and hybrid in nature, being a place where customers go to pick up or return online orders or the source of e-commerce fulfillment. Stores will continue to be incredibly important to differentiating remarkable retail brands, yet how they will operate, where they will be located and how they will be laid out will continue to evolve, in some cases dramatically.

WWD: You note that successful merchants are not fearing digital, but have “started to harness its power.” Can you briefly explain what you mean?

S.D.: With the exception of products that could be delivered digitally, like books, music and games, it was always a false choice to think about e-commerce versus brick-and-mortar. The most remarkable brands embrace the blur that shopping started to become two decades ago, choose to break down the silos that get in the way of delivering a harmonized customer shopping experience and fundamentally see the customer as the channel. Digital drives physical and vice versa.

There are certainly many cases where brands are not going to out-Amazon Amazon or out-Walmart Walmart. There is no reason to engage in a race to the bottom. At the same time, developing leading-edge digital capabilities in concert with investing in stores in ways that leverage the unique advantages of a brick-and-mortar location can be an incredibly powerful combination, as many brands that are opening stores and delivering strong growth and profits have demonstrated time and time again.

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