“Connecting with brands is the future of retail,” said Howard Saunders, the featured speaker at this week’s ICSC Mid-Atlantic Deal Making Session.

“The consumer of today has everything and, with its mobile device in its hands, has access to everything,” Saunders said to the lunchtime crowd at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center. “It is like King Henry the VIII — Americans have become a gluttony of clothing, shoes and food, most of which we don’t need. Just check out your closet. So, how does the retailer of today deal with this premise, especially with the traditional retail world falling down all around them, including iconic stores such as Macy’s?”    

Saunders explained that, with the all-powerful iPhone in the palm of every consumer’s hand, one-touch shopping is now possible from every section of the globe. Retailers still struggle to compete with this device, as evidenced by the continuation of store closings, and they are now taking a different approach.

“We are seeing the transition from a functional economy to a feel-good economy,” Saunders, billed as a Retail Futurist, continued. “The consumer of today brings an ‘it’s all about me’ attitude to life and shopping. They are looking for the next Instagram moment that they can share with the world. Savvy retailers understand that, with many now conceiving spaces housed with a minimum of product that consumers can purchase. In its place are feel-good, entertainment spaces that make shopping seem like an afterthought.”

Saunders provided numerous examples. He started with the Nike House of Innovation 000 in New York City featuring six levels of immersive experiences including the Sneaker Lab and the Sneaker Bar. Consumers wander around the 68,000 square-foot space and sometimes forget they are visiting a retail store. Numerous other brands have found success with this concept.

“Now then,” Saunders asked the audience, “what is more boring than buying a bed mattress?”  Don’t tell that to Casper who conceptualized The Dreamery and charges consumers $20 for a 15-minute nap to rest and recharge. Oh yes, you can also buy their products but you have to look hard for them.”

An iconic whiskey brand has also ventured into this space. “How many people out there would like to have your name engraved on the lid of a Jack Daniel’s barrel?” Saunders asked. “I know – none of you. Just like me. But that will change if you visit The Jack Daniel’s Store and you witness the crowd of people standing in line for their customized lid. I bought mine — it was just $150.

“In the post-stuff era, retailers will prove just how creative they really are with concepts such as these. Digitally native brands – defined as companies that only exist on the Internet – have also captured the attention of the consumer,” he said.