How To Ensure Brick and Mortar Stores Stay Relevant

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Terry Richardson Terry Richardson

By: Terry Richardson, President and COO of Petrie Richardson Ventures 

With increasing pressure from online retailing, traditional retail environments must strive to remain at the forefront of innovation and reinvention. While some may feel brick and mortar retailing is facing extinction, the data say otherwise.

Petrie Richardson Ventures (PRV), founded in 2000 by Chairman Walt Petrie, recently commissioned a large-scale survey that examined the influence of evolving social, lifestyle, entertainment and technology developments on shopping habits across the US. The more than 75 question online survey of a demographic representative of 1,018 shoppers 18 years of age and older was conducted by ORC International, one of the American Marketing Association’s Top 50 Research Firms.

It’s all about the experience

The critical takeaway from our results is that Americans — especially millennials — place a high value on the total shopping experience. Specifically, the survey showed that what shoppers value most about retail experiences at malls and shopping centers versus online shopping is the physical experience of the actual brick and mortar retail environment — with 85 percent of respondents reporting that holding products or trying on clothing is key to their shopping experience.

It’s simple: experiential retail environments are what online retailers simply cannot offer. Online retailing may seem to be geared towards internet-loving millennials, but surprisingly, the survey found that millennials visit physical retail environments more often than other consumers in general.

More so than older consumers, millennials see shopping centers and malls as experiences in themselves, with the potential for enjoyable discovery, entertainment and social interaction. Specifically, more than six out of ten value the shopping experience for being in a stimulating environment, meeting friends or family and enjoying the social aspects.

The more options, the better

Survey respondents also cited the importance of having a broad range of unique, available retail options, with 84 percent considering access to a wide variety of stores and products as important and 69 percent valuing the active discovery of new stores and products.

Large properties with a wide variety of retail options are motivators to visit bricks and mortar stores for a large majority of our respondees, while new products only available in stores are strong motivators as well. 

Integrated technology is a must

While the survey revealed that consumers shop online less than one-third of the time, we learned that almost half of all shoppers want to use more technology while shopping. Whether it’s smartphone apps that provide on-the-spot discounts, enable them to search inventory, locate the best store to visit and to direct them to the product they want. Another third want to use their smartphones to make purchases while in a store, order food to pick up in the food court and even request additional sizes while in the dressing room.

Not surprisingly, millennials are more likely in general to welcome and use technical resources in their shopping activities: 71 percent expect free wi-fi/internet access throughout the shopping environment. What’s more, six out of ten millennials shop on their smartphones and want to use them in a variety of ways while shopping. 

Developers need the right kind of tenant and surrounding

In our newly renovated retail environment in Silver Spring, Maryland, Ellsworth Place — a 350,000-square-foot indoor retail center that is fully leased with anchor tenants Ross Dress for Less, TJ Maxx, Marshalls, Michaels, Burlington Coat Factory, Dave & Busters and Not Your Average Joe’s — we provide patrons with complimentary wi-ri internet access, a space for meeting friends on the first floor and we are flanked on all sides by entertainment options. In addition to gaming at Dave & Buster’s, Ellsworth Place’s future tenant Guitar Center plans on incorporating live in-store events, which will add to the greater overall variety and experience.

Whereas our other major development in the DC metro market, Woodmore Towne Centre in Glenarden, Maryland — a 140-acre, 700,000-square-foot mixed-use development — offers critical mass and great variety, being anchored by Wegmans, Costco, Best Buy, Petco, JC Penney and a forthcoming Nordstrom Rack, all of whom have free in-store mobile applications to meet customers’ desire for technology.

Online retail experience isn’t as stimulating

It doesn’t have to be just about adding more technology. Instead retailers can and should attract customers by exploiting the existing advantages of the brick and mortar setting: providing hands-on discovery and interaction with diverse product options in a stimulating environment along with good old fashioned superb customer service.

Terry Richardson is the president and COO of Petrie Richardson Ventures, a retail developer in the Mid-Atlantic region with a national reputation for creating successful retail centers and exciting mixed-use properties. PRV currently owns and operates Ellsworth Place in Silver Spring, MD, with Rockwood Capital and Woodmore Towne Centre in Glenarden, MD in partnership with Prudential Real Estate Investors. For more information, visit www.petrierichardson.com.

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