What’s the Future of Store-Based Retail

Chris Walton talks consumer shopping habits, while brick-and-mortar Starbucks goes digital.

January 31, 2020

ALEXANDRIA, Va.—To be successful in today’s retail environment, companies must reinvent themselves to keep shoppers coming inside. Recently, DC Velocity interviewed Chris Walton, CEO and founder of Omni Talk, and a partner at Third Haus, an experimental tech lab that tests new retail concepts, on the future of store-based retail.

The biggest way consumer shopping habits have changed has been the rise of digital. “Today, if something strikes our fancy, we can literally just pick up our phone and buy it with a simple swipe of a finger. The statistic is that when people know what they want, 85% of the time they go to Google or Amazon to find it. They type that keyword into the search engine, and that's where they start their shopping experience,” Walton said.

For brick-and-mortar stores, Walton listed five key reasons for a retailer’s existence. “Number one is the idea of immediate gratification. Two, stores have been a means of convenience. Three, they have oftentimes been a means of inspiration. Four, they have been a place for the tactile or sensory aspects of retail. This is, the ability to touch, to feel, to try an item on in a way that you can't simulate online. And then five is really just the sheer experience of being somewhere. It could be creating a memory somewhere, oftentimes with other people,” he said.

So is Amazon Go a model for future stores? “I think Amazon Go is a really important model to keep an eye on,” Walton said. “You're not actually using Amazon technology to arrange for something to be shipped to your home; you're using Amazon technology to pay for your purchases without standing in line. It's all done electronically.”

The retail future may also be similar to a new Starbucks Pickup location in New York. “It looks like a Starbucks, it walks like a Starbucks, heck, it even quacks like a Starbucks, but there is one big difference—customers place their orders from their mobile phones,” Walton wrote in an article for Forbes.

Customers place orders via their mobile devices for pick up at the store, which has a digital wall queue to check order progress. Names are called along with a screen alert when the order is ready. The entire store has been configured to optimize the carryout experience. Back-of-the-house operations are front and center, while front of the house offers fast order fulfillment. The new location follows a trend for retail in which stores are embedded conveniently into consumers’ lives to win over their business.

Walton points out that these new experiences “all point to a new reality, a reality in which brands will be built, not on the backs of helpful sales people pushing products, but by way of digital tools that help customers acquire what they want on their own and then leave humanity to solve the problems customers cannot solve themselves or to give customers a wink and a smile, … just at the right moment, post-purchase, to make them feel special and to leave them wanting more.”

For more insights from Walton, don’t miss “Know Thyself, Know Thy Customer,” in the February issue of NACS Magazine. Walton will be a featured speaker at next week’s NACS Leadership Forum in Miami.