The physical store was changing long before 2020, but the pandemic injected a dose of urgency into often-sluggish or piecemeal efforts. The pandemic not only redefined how people shop, it has forced companies to reengineer what stores need to look like now and will in the future.
In recent months, as the world opened up, the WSL team and our Retail Safari scouts explored some of the most forward-looking changes because, even as the pandemic raged, the best retailers continued to respond and innovate in ways that put the shopper front and center.
Some of the boldest, quickest, most noteworthy innovations have been in health, beauty, food and fashion, including in more smaller-format stores, large-format retailers that have reimagined space to service more omnichannel shopping, technology that is now as integral to the shopping experience as an end-cap, and new categories and services that have emerged. Read on to see just some of what’s on The WSL Best List.
Healthier options across the store: The 7-Eleven Innovation Lab in Texas is proof any type of retailer can deliver on wellness (even a C-store), with smart snacks and organic options. Convenience store standard products sit alongside unexpected healthy options. For example, national brands of mac ’n cheese are merchandised next to organic options. There’s also kombucha and cold brew on tap, preservative-free smoothies, cold-pressed juices, and CBD personal care products. All this delivered with usual 7-Eleven convenience (from click-and-collect order options to its fast-pay app).
Health and wellness services pop up on Main Street: As many shoppers look for new ways of self care, specialty retail concepts are popping up on street fronts across the country and the world. You can find individual store fronts devoted to acupuncture (Modern Acupuncture, NYC is one example), CBD, gyrotonics, and lots (and lots) of skin upkeep with lasers and injectables. MECCA, Australia’s leading specialty beauty retailer, has added wellness services, including naturopathy and fertility clinics, to its glorious and immersive beauty offer, in response to its shoppers’ holistic view of what beauty means today.
Digital tools that make shopping faster: While new tech tools are being integrated everywhere, on The WSL Best List is the Amazon Fresh store in Woodland Hills, Calif. Count on a Web retailer to master the in-store technologies that make shopping easier, seamless across all categories. There are computerized weight and price calculators, Amazon pickup lockers and an in-store Alexa that answers questions about product location in the aisles and responds to recipe questions with an ingredient list. The tech highlight: The Dash Cart, which tabulates and tallies the price of goods before checking out, touch free, in a designated lane.
Immersive beauty in a touchless world: Cosmetic sampling took a hit in the pandemic, but that hasn’t slowed down Shiseido’s Tokyo flagship store or the M.A.C. Innovation Lab in Queens, N.Y., where visitors can virtually try on liners and powders, experiment with new looks and build their own beauty kits while never touching anything but a digital screen. Using the M.A.C. app, shoppers can sync up their skin tones to choose the right shades and touch and drag them to a virtual palette. In the depths of the pandemic, M.A.C. even planned for mask-wearing — visitors could see which lipstick shades suited them by holding a hand in front of their masks.
Leading shoppers to new sustainable habits: Earth-friendly sustainability practices are becoming a part of merchandising, and we caught ambitious initiatives at two very different U.K. retailers. ASDA, the mass merchandiser, launched its new “green lab” with recycling and sustainability options galore, for grocery and personal care products, all at great prices. And Selfridges, the luxury department store, retrofitted its entire store with an eight-week installation called “Project Earth: Let’s Change the Way We Shop.” There were recycling bins for used beauty products and packaging; cosmetic and fragrance refills; zero-waste and reusable kitchen utensils; upcycled apparel (with purses made from recycled yarn); and a resale department, Resellfridges, where shoppers can sell and buy pre-loved goods.
These are just some of the retail innovations we’ve visited around the world over the many months of the pandemic. Each emphasizes what shoppers expect of retail now: affordable, holistic wellness options, technologies that make shopping easier and less stressful, delivered by companies that boldly provide shoppers with immersive experiences reimagined to meet their new post-pandemic values. Retail innovation by the best. Retail Inspiration for all.
Wendy Liebmann is chief executive officer and chief shopper at WSL Strategic Retail, a global retail consultancy specializing in shopper and retail insights and innovations, wslstrategicretail.com.