COVID-19 disrupted nearly every aspect of retail and landlords and retailers continue to make adjustments to the new way consumers research purchases, interact with their favorite brands and shop.
During a recent “Retail’s New Normal” webinar sponsored by Placer.ai, Matt Alexander, Co-Founder and CEO of Neighborhood Goods, and Jessica Boer, Vice President, Global Retail Strategy for Estee Lauder Companies, debated the lost relevance of department stores, the importance of omnichannel marketing and the reason why improved lipstick sales represents a retail turning point. The session was moderated by Ethan Chernofsky, Vice President of Marketing for Placer.ai.
Calling itself “a new type of department store,” Neighborhood Goods consists of approximately 10,000 square feet of space and stocks less than 100 hard-to-find products in a rotating lineup of brands. The concept recently introduced food to its product offering. After facing a tremendous downturn for an extended period of time when traffic remained low throughout 2020, sales have now exceeded pre-pandemic levels.
“As malls ballooned in size, department stores lost their relevance,” explained Matt Alexander. “Digital is incredibly convenient if consumers know what they are looking for and the general public is now conditioned to shop in that manner. At the same time, brands need physical channels and are constantly searching for ways to reach consumers in a more traditional way.”
According to research presented by Placer.ai, monthly visits to Macy’s dropped more than 56% in June 2020, a figure that improved to approximately 35% in October 2020 but still represents a troubling trend for the national department store chain. By comparison, Dillard’s experienced a 37% decline in June 2020, with monthly visits down 29% in October 2020.
“Top tier malls will thrive, particularly over the next few years as tourism starts to rebound, but malls in general need to find compelling new reasons to encourage consumers to visit,” explained Jessica Boer. “If you were starting a new beauty product in this environment, you would not be using Neiman Marcus to market your brand. Department stores used to be the carrier and the experience builders but most have lost their way. Consumers are conducting research online and then shopping, which means brands need to sync up their online and off-line stores for a consistent omnichannel experience. The baton needs to be passed perfectly.”
Alexander cites Warby Parker as the classic case for this new age marketing. “They tell their affordable eyeglasses story in a friendly and memorable manner with an emphasis on philanthropy in its email marketing,” he explained. “The brand promotes a dignified and positive experience and, although started online, now successfully operates physical stores.”
“Many sales employees view the online shopping option as a competitor,” Boer stated, “with the personnel in the stores doing all of the sales work but not seeing the benefit when the eventual purchase is conducted online. We do believe in the halo effect in which digital marketing activities improves sales across all shopping channels.”
And Boer sees some encouraging signs for the retail sector.
“We track our international markets closely for guidance on what to expect will happen in the U.S., and it is extremely encouraging to see lipstick sales rising,” Boer added. “Women are finally removing their masks and paying attention to their lips. This was the last product line to come back.”