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In Today’s Retail, Guess Who’s Getting [Slept With]

Companies will still make goods, and people will still buy goods. But what about our stores?

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I recently moved, and I need to buy a bed. Some other furniture, too.

My inbox is only too willing to present me with any number of options: Wayfair, Havertys, Pottery Barn, Value City, Pier 1, Macy’s (did you know they still have furniture?), Mattress & More, La-Z-Boy (they know with whom they’re dealing), Bassett. And not just the occasional “we’re here if you need us.” It’s a daily barrage! And every one promises 24-hours-only of free shipping, an extra 20 percent off, extended financing, no interest for 36 months.

How simple just to click on the “beds” link and look through hundreds of pictures, thousands of options. What I’ve found, though, is that it isn’t “simple” at all. I have to touch, see, feel, measure. Sit on mattresses. Slide drawers open. Touch for quality and durability.

It’s the “look, feel, touch” argument that brick-and-mortar retailing has been leaning on for 20 years. Yet modern consumers are somehow resistant to that argument. Amazingly adept at maneuvering that thing in their hands, they spin through social media, enlarge and rotate images, review user ratings and order their purchases with no second thoughts. (I ought to warn them about the arthritis they’re all going to get in their thumb joints in about 10 years.)

You know who else are candidates for arthritis in their hands? All those writers churning out all those blogs on the “Future of Retail.” I just read one on the website TechCrunch.com, entitled “The Death of Retail is Greatly Exaggerated.”

The writer feels that retail will survive just nicely, thank you.

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But will it still be retail?

“Let the malls implode,” he writes. “Young retailers will remake them in their own image, gutting the old Gap stores and putting in a coffee shop. Large buildings will be repurposed into markets and micro-retail will replace maxi-retail. . . . While the seismic effects of retail death are real and dangerous in the short term, I’m optimistic enough to bet on the small scale in the long term.”

Look, he suggests, hasn’t the publishing industry rebounded from The Great Book War that saw Amazon’s banner waving in the wind over the corpses of Borders and Barnes & Noble?

How so? “Indie bookstores ‘booming’ in the same way long-tail blogs are booming and companies like Read Dog Books are offering cute little book boxes that makes receiving a book a treat rather than an exchange. People want paper books because of how they make them feel – special, in-the-know, educated.

“In short, it’s the hipsterization of book retail.”

Could I possibly have been so glib 30 years ago when I was writing about Walmart and the big boxes as they swallowed up all the small independents?

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The writer cites “the old John Waters quote – ‘We need to make books cool again. If you go home with somebody and they don’t have books, don’t [sleep with] them.’

“Maybe in the next 10 years,” he writes, “someone like John Waters will tell the world that if you go home with someone who doesn’t own a one-of-a-kind, wildly unique P24 HD Gabardine Articulated re-cut staple military style trouser, you shouldn’t [sleep with] them.”

No, I was never that glib! Because, in all that “hipsterization,” tell me what the future is for store planners and designers. As the industry evolves, they’re already being [slept with].

As a journalist, writer, editor and commentator, Steve Kaufman has been watching the store design industry for 20-plus years. He has seen the business cycle through retailtainment, minimalism, category killers, big boxes, pop-ups, custom stores, global roll-outs, international sourcing, interactive kiosks, the emergence of China, the various definitions of “branding” and Amazon.com. He has reported on the rise of brand concept shops, the demise of brand concept shops and the resurgence of brand concept shops. He has been an eyewitness to the reality that nothing stays the same, except the retailer-shopper relationship.

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