New Retail: The Next Era of Brick and Mortar

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Fact – our lives are digitally saturated and traditional retail has been confronted with an online shopping revolution.

Technology has made it cheaper, easier, and more “instant” for people to get what they want online, delivered to their doorstep. And against that backdrop, a trip to the store — where they might not find the right product, could wait in a long line, and need to schlep heavy bags home can start to feel less and less appealing.

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So, what does this tell retailers about how to approach online verses brick and mortar to drive growth? Focus on both and think about how you'll create a seamless ecosystem that connects the two.

Too big to fail?

At first, it seemed like some household name stores were too big to fail but we’ve seen Toys 'R' Us and Sears shut down their big box locations, and chains like The Gap shrink their physical footprint. While some IRL retail is done, don’t dismiss brick and mortar yet!

Look at what Jack Ma, the mastermind behind China's most fundamental and robust e-commerce system, Alibaba, likes to call “new retail”. Ma has long understood that for customers to be fully satisfied, it's not about eliminating traditional retail in favor of one online channel. Instead, it’s about a model that combines online, brick and mortar, and logistics to create a fully integrated omnichannel shopping experience that can get people whatever they want, whenever, and wherever they want it.

A new era emerges

The New Retail model that's currently alive and kicking at Hema, the new supermarket chain that Ma has launched in China, offers people the chance to shop exactly how they want. Customers shop for food in the store by scanning each item with the app; they immediately see what the item is, how to cook it, and what to pair with it. Then you decide whether you want a chef to cook your food for you in store – seafood dishes are a favorite for this – or take it home raw. You can even head to the café area to enjoy your freshly cooked shrimp with a pint of beer before making the journey home. With those perks, who doesn’t want to go grocery shopping in China now?

Ma’s stores also function as logistics centers, so once you've had a pint of beer, you can leave without your bags and have your items delivered within about 30 mins. Feeling lazy? No need to come to the store at all – shop on the app and your delivery will arrive shortly.

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Image by @eastkitchen.th

The new big picture

So, what does this tell retailers about how to approach online verses brick and mortar to drive growth? Focus on both and think about how you'll create a seamless ecosystem that connects the two. Don’t get caught thinking of each channel as a separate entity, and treating consumers differently based on where and how they shop. People flow freely between human, personal experiences, and digital interactions every day, all day – and they expect to be able to navigate a brand’s retail ecosystems in the same way.

Don't make them choose how to shop, just make it easy for them.