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Meaghan Brophy is one the leading new voices on retail. A former editor for Independent Retailer, a RetailWire BrainTrust panelist and a frequent speaker at retail trade shows, Meaghan is currently covering the retail beat for FitSmallBusiness.com. We spoke with this retail influencer about the latest retail trends, the challenges retailers face in an increasingly digital landscape, and her advice for retailers entering the 2019 holiday season…
You write about retail for FitSmallBusiness.com. What made you decide to cover the retail industry?
I started working in retail at a young age, as many of us do, while in school. However, I ended up really loving it and made a small career working in retail management. I studied writing and publishing in undergraduate and graduate school, so when I switched to writing full-time, I knew exactly where I wanted to specialize. Retail is one of the most exciting areas to study and write about because it is currently changing and evolving so rapidly.
What do you think about the continuing trend of digital-first brands opening physical stores? Is the “phygital” route always a good idea?
I think it was inevitable. When an online store reaches a certain level in terms of sales and brand recognition, the fastest, and sometimes the only way to grow is by creating a physical presence. The cost of customer acquisition is much higher for online brands than it used to be. Just look at Le Tote’s acquisition of Lord & Taylor. For that startup, spending $100 million to acquire the department store and its customers was a better deal than trying to build that same number of customers on their own.
On a totally separate note, whenever I hear the word “phygital”, Olivia Newton-John’s song “Physical” gets stuck in my head for the rest of the day. 🙂
Do you think malls are experiencing a comeback?
Yes. Many people enjoy shopping in-store and malls can be a great place for gathering and socializing. However, I think they will look different. People are tired of seeing the same exact stores and products everywhere they go. Malls need to reflect the community they exist in. This means incorporating local businesses as the focus, running more events and offering different kinds of spaces – whether it’s a workspace, breweries, or art classes.
You’ve interviewed a lot of retail store owners. What’s the most common challenge they’re facing today?
For small stores, marketing and getting people in the door continues to be the biggest challenge. Many of the independent stores I’ve talked to now get a large number of their customers from Instagram. Other retailers reach new customers by participating in local events. Some also still do well with Facebook ads and contests.
What’s a new trend in retail that you’re hopeful about? And what trend do you think is completely overrated?
This may be a bit of a nerdy answer, but I really like how many online retailers are adopting alternative payment methods, especially now that they are becoming more friendly towards consumers. Installment payment plans have seen a huge increase in popularity over the past few years. I think they are a necessary option for consumers, especially consumers who may not have a credit card, but need to purchase high-ticket items, like furniture.
Up until very recently, many of the payment plan options all added interest or required a credit check. Now, we’re seeing more flexible payment options that don’t require a credit check or interest payments. Retailers are still paid upfront, so it is risk-free for them. Plus, these payment options typically result in more sales and higher average order values.
As far as a trend that is over-rated, the direct-to-consumer (DTC) fad was very exciting, and I think it opened a lot of customers’ eyes in terms of product manufacturing and retail markups. So, it has the potential to help push retail towards more transparency. However, I think the DTC bubble has all but burst. As these new retail companies are becoming more specialized, people are also realizing there’s a lot to be said for the convenience factor of getting everything in one place.
What should brick-and-mortar retailers entering the 2019 holiday season pay more attention to or invest more money in?
A lot of retailers have forgotten the basics. Technology and experiential retailing are all very exciting – but they are impossible to execute well if your store is merchandised poorly and employees are not trained. Heading into the holiday season, retailers should invest in training employees on customer service and sales skills, and take the time to coach and role-play each employee through different scenarios. Then, keep your store exciting with holiday-themed decor. During the month of December, shoppers want to be in the holiday spirit. But most of all, keep your store tidy with well-stocked shelves and spacious aisles.
One piece of technology retailers absolutely need to invest in is their website. If you are using a POS to manage your store, it should be relatively easy to sync your store inventory to your website to offer online sales for in-store pickup. Then designate a space behind the checkout counter for packaging and pick-up. During the busy holiday season, offering this purchasing option can save customers a lot of time and help retailers boost sales numbers.