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What The Apple Watch Has Taught Us About The Future Of Retail

Retail and technology remain a very hot topic as traditional storefronts continue to either reinvent or become obsolete. Initially, online retailers, through low overhead, were able to cut into traditional retail establishments by undercutting on cost alone. Years of drab storefront design and lack of focus on “customer experience” led to the perfect storm where online retailers were able to deeply cut into traditional brick-and-mortars profits. Ultimately, who wanted to visit an uninspiring storefront anyways? They were drab, boring, and less convenient; and the decision process was driven mostly by lowest cost.

Through attrition, traditional retailers quickly realized that they too needed to have a strong online offering and their retail stores needed to be designed to promote their brand and provide a destination for their customers to try, discuss, complain, and love their product. They needed to create an experience that tells a story about the culture of the company and brand.

Companies that continue to resist change will downsize over time and ultimately go out of business while companies born online, like Amazon and even Google, have started to dabble in the brick-and-mortar world, scooping up vacant storefronts. We are witnessing the full lifecycle of the disruption to the retail sector; with online displacing brick-and-mortar and brick-and-mortar evolving to compete with online; and ultimately online beginning to fill the void left by expanding into vacant brick-and-mortar space. Ultimately, we will end with a re-invented retail industry, where online experience is critical and storefront, in a re-invented format, maintains a critical spot in the retail machine.

The new launch of the Apple Watch, by appointment only, re-affirms the importance of physical presence, and others like Google know it. By creating a destination where customers can see and be seen is critical. While an appointment only launch may seem bizarre in the online first world of technology, Apple gets it. It’s about the customer and getting face-time with them. It’s about listening. It’s about the exclusivity of your brand and conveying the feeling that the customer is special. It’s about conveying what your company is all about and creating a space to celebrate it.

Apple makes a statement in each design/build/launch of each and every store globally. It’s more than about showcasing product and driving sales, and the Amazons and Googles of the world get it and are starting to follow suit.

When it comes to retail space, we will not see less of it. We will see more high quality retail space driven by location and opportunity to make a statement. We will also potentially see more combined retail and commercial, where companies drive to keep their executives closer to the customer (think retail on the ground level with office space above).

Every company wants to make a statement. Every company wants to create an experience. Spaces that are traditionally overlooked, if marketed properly, are exactly what the new breed of tech-infused retail is looking for.

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