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The Cure for the ‘Retail Apocalypse’

OXFORDSHIRE — 8,642.

This number appeared on the first slide of a presentation by Doug Stephens, retail industry futurist, founder of Retail Prophet, and author of “Reengineering Retail: The Future of Selling in a Post-Digital World.”

8,642 is the number of stores shuttered this year in the U.S. in what Stephens called the “retail apocalypse.”

The origin of this shift is no surprise — e-commerce has accounted for $1.9 trillion USD in retail, said Stephens.

On Singles Day in China, in the first few hours, Alibaba had $8.6 billion USD in sales. Moreover, Amazon is set to be the top seller of apparel by the end of this calendar year, he added.

“This is the end of the beginning of e-commerce,” he said.

E-commerce is being reshaped by everything, from 3D printing to subscription models, noted Stephens. But what about physical stores?

Doug Stephens | Photo: Retail Prophet

As the world becomes more virtual, humans increasingly crave physical experiences. As a result of this yearning, physical stores will not die, stated Stephens. However, in order to survive, stores must change.

“Media is becoming the store,” he said, identifying online product experiences. “As a result, stores must become media…stores are the most powerful, measurable, manageable form of media that a brand has at disposal.”

“Stores can’t be just about distributing products,” he explained. “They need to be about distributing experiences — less stores, mores stories.” Take for example Bandier, Sonos, or Nordstrom. That means putting less emphasis on shopping and more on community, entertainment, and hospitality.

“Experiences with friends are what plays well on Instagram — more than products,” noted Stephens. “Why can’t communal experiences and shopping come together?” he continued, recommending a new formula for retail:

Community + Great Physical Environment + Great Products.

Let’s hope retailers listen.

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