Brick and mortar retail is in a state of thrilling transition.
True, a period of rapid transformation can breed casualties, as any witness to an urban downtown with more than its share of empty storefronts or a mall that grows less populated with every passing month can testify.
But while much remains to be determined, the brick-and-mortar store is evincing a protean ability to creatively adapt. It’s reconstituting itself in response to new consumer modes, needs, and desires.
Thus are we seeing retail establishments recast themselves as community hubs made for lingering—social “third places” that mediate between home on the one hand and the workplace on the other.
We’re also seeing retailers bring back business models that predate the mass production era, defying the standardization and efficiency imperatives that largely defined retail in the twentieth century. Traditional services and rituals are returning. So is the very idea of craftsmanship.
Retailers are also catering more to kids, on the theory that happy children increase the number of parents who aren’t compelled to flee a store before the day’s shopping is done. Food and drink and in-store educational workshops are increasingly common tools for keeping shoppers on-site. 3D printing tech has colonized stores in the hopes that the customization of products will add another dimension to the retail experience. And none of that is to mention brick-and-mortar retailers’ new tendency to appeal to the consumer’s social conscience.
These new phenomena represent just some of the ways that stores are adjusting to a changing retail environment. By focusing on these phenomena, this report explores what we can expect in an era when a store will no longer be just a store—at least in the way we’ve gotten used to it.