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NRF 2014 Kicks Off by Reimagining Main Street

Day 1 of NRF’s Big Show here in New York City kicked off in its usual fashion with an amazing session that set the tone for the next three days.

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Entitled Reimagining Main Street – How Brick and Mortar Retail will Thrive in the 21st Century, this session examined the trend of how retail is creating new “town centers” in a post-recession era. Retailers, now more than ever, are charged not with creating shopping centers but establishing vibrant gathering places that foster community and emphasize experience over transaction. The session had two parts, an introductory talk by Caruso Affiliated’s Founder and CEO Rick Caruso, and a panel moderated by CNBC’s Sue Herera (which we will cover in a separate post).

Caruso opened the session by outlining the key differences between in-store experiences and online, and why the former will never go away. “It’s the experience around [in-store] that leads to connection and community, all wrapped up in glamorous service,” he said. “While online is still a critical part of the retail ecosystem, people forego online shopping in favor of the atmosphere created by the brick and mortar store.”

For retailers to capitalize on this trend they need to be able to create an immersive experience, no matter the size of the store. Caruso cited Starbucks as a company that has maximized experience within small spaces. They have everything from the smell of the store to the sound of their machines calibrated to encourage people to sit in their stores for hours. The transaction is a side effect of inviting the consumer into your cave and sit by the fire. According to Caruso “you are not a retailer, you are a caretaker.”

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To that effect, he noted that one retailer went as far as to hire former Four Seasons executives to bring their knowledge and experience of hospitality to retail. According to Caruso, “if you are in the retail business, you are in the hospitality business.” A website cannot provide that level of hospitality and personalization. The store is the physical embodiment of who the brand is and every moment the consumer spends there informs their opinion and forges their relationship with them.

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Shopping serves a need for community, relaxation, and pleasure and is an important facet of our lives. Physical retail stores play a crucial role in supporting this notion. It goes far beyond things they can hold in their hand or hang in a closet. Retailers should embrace this advantage of being a disruptor to the online technologies that are meant to be disrupting them.