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Reimagining Main Street at NRF 2014 – The Panel

Earlier we covered Rick Caruso’s individual portion of the session Reimagining Main Street – How Brick and Mortar Retail will Thrive in the 21st Century during day one of NRF’s Big Show. In this post we take a deep dive into the major themes and trends discussed during the panel that followed.

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Moderated by CNBC Power Lunch Co-Anchor Sue Herera, the panel featured Rick Caruso, Founder and CEO of Caruso Affiliated, fashion designer Rebecca Minkoff, Sprinkles Cupcakes founder and pastry chef Candace Nelson, and Blake Nordstrom, President of Nordstrom, Inc.

The panel began by emphasizing the notion that brick and mortar retail needs to be as close as they can with the consumer and should always strive to be relevant. While it is harder to evolve in-store retail practices when compared to online, the onus is on them to remain in lock step with their customers.

Candace Nelson noted that she is always trying to find new ways to wow the customer and it was that drive that led to their new curbside delivery service. She mentioned busy moms who are running errands might not have time to make it into the physical store and that the new delivery service gave them away to deliver their product and still engage the consumer. According to Nelson, “we want the customer to feel pampered and cared for in that short transaction time.”

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Rick Caruso talked to this shift from getting the customer in and out of the store as fast as possible to one that invites them to stay as long as they want. The key is to give them reasons to come to the store even if there is nothing they want to buy. “If you do that, then that is where they will want to shop,” said Caruso. “It puts them in a happy spot and if they are happy then they are more likely to buy things.”

He mentioned that if a retailer is aimed specifically at women, they should incorporate elements of their store experience that engage the husband and kids as well. If the experience of shopping is more about a child wanting to go ride the train set that is in a store and not just a stop on a checklist of things to do, the transactions will follow suit.

Rebecca Minkoff described the ivory tower that designers used to be locked in, apart from their customers and fans. Through the advent of social media and more dynamic store designs, she is now able to interact with her customers in ways she never imagined. She spoke specifically about trunk shows she holds in various retail stores that allow her to share her products with her customers, but more importantly, create unique relationships with them.

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Looking to the future, Blake Nordstrom brought up the great point that creating unique stores that cultivate customer experiences are difficult to pull off and require hard work across a number of different areas. While many stores are serving as poster children, there are countless others that have yet to catch up. Fortunately the silver lining, according to Nordstrom, is that “the seeds are being planted today for retailers to be able to create this experience in five years.”

The main theme all four panelists agreed upon at the end of the session is that you have to make the shopping experience interesting and customized to the consumer. Do not get caught up in the quick transaction, if you create a space that they want to keep coming back to, the transactions will follow.