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Retail Rundown: Year in Review 2021

Welcome to the Retail Rundown, your go-to weekly podcast where RETHINK Retail teams up with industry experts to discuss the news, trends, and big ideas that are redefining commerce.

In this special episode, we rundown the year with clips from episodes past as we say goodbye to 2021.

Featuring commentary from Neighborhood Goods’ Matt Alexander, Starbucks‘ John Boline, CAMP’s Nikki Kaufman, and Gap’s Dan Goldman.

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Hosted by Julia Raymond Hare
Produced by Gabriella Bock
Edited by Trenton Waller

Post Transcript

Julia Raymond Hare: Hello and welcome to RETHINK Retail’s Year in Review. On today’s episode we are going to take a look back at the top retail news stories and trends that made their mark on 2021. We’ll also hear clips from a few of our favorite interviews from episodes past. Now, onto 2021:   Julia Raymond Hare: While the COVID-19 pandemic was the big story of 2020, the rollout of COVID vaccines and a 3rd round of stimulus checks brought the retail industry soaring back by the end of quarter 1. By March, U.S. retailers had announced 3,199 store openings and 2,548 closures year-to-date – a sharp decrease in the upwards of 10,000 closings some analysts were projecting. In the UK, more than 8,700 British chain stores closed in the first half of 2021. A large portion of those closures were on the high streets, with 3,600 shops shuttering overall. As for openings, the number of new store openings in the UK, at 3,500, was the lowest since 2016. But by summer, restrictions in the majority of the US and in Europe were lifted and consumers were back in stores and ready to enjoy public life again. To celebrate this development, we were joined by two retailers offering some of today’s most interesting and influential in-store experiences – CAMP Co-founder Nikki Kaufman and Neighborhood Goods Founder Matt Alexander.   Nikki Kaufman: So, what’s pretty cool and I think magical about our experience is when you walk into a CAMP store, you’re in what we call the Canteen, which gives you sort of like a general store vibe. We have a food and beverage component. You can buy gifts or trinkets. There’s adult stuff. There’s some apparel. There are some grab-and-go items. And then there’s a wall that just looks like a wall that has some products on it and jars on it. And what’s super cool about that, and it’s our poorly kept secret, is that it’s actually a magic door. And so our counselors will ask you to recite some magic or do a special trick or have any sort of fun entry point into CAMP, but you get that magic door open and then you’re sort of transported outside of New York City or outside of the location where the CAMP store is in. Nikki Kaufman: And you’re brought back to these really nostalgic, fun, creative memories that you have, and you don’t feel like you’re in New York anymore. And you feel like you’re in this magical wonderland where you can play and chalk and craft and go down the slide and play in the dance hall. And it’s all interactive where there’s stuff at all levels for kids of all ages to play with and to touch and to get messy, to sit down and do an activity with your grownups. And we have folks that are actually returning multiple, multiple times a month, which is incredible.   Nikki Kaufman: We called it CAMP because actually a friend of ours, a friend of our son, thought of the word when we were describing the store over lunch in the summer of 2018. And once he said that, we were like, “Wow, that is perfect.” And the word just evokes a magic and a memory and a nostalgia and frankly, a smile. And so that is why we called it CAMP.   Julia Raymond Hare: So, Matt, it’s great to have you on the show. I want to talk to you about how to create experiences that aren’t boring and what you think about the future. So I want to kick it off by just giving you the floor and letting you tell our listeners a little bit about what inspired Neighborhood Goods and about yourself.   Matt Alexander: Yeah. So first of all, thanks for having me on. And that was a pretty good summary. I mean we describe ourselves as being a need-type of department store of sorts, which is varying degrees of accurate, right? We have fixed physical spaces as well as digital experiences where, for the consumer, you walk in and you see most major product categories represented anything from home to kids, to apparel, beauty and wellness and otherwise we have our own restaurants in the space. It’s our stuff, it’s our design and fixtures. So it presents this a small format, a department store or sort of a larger scale boutique. But the brands that you find inside the space, the brands you typically wouldn’t otherwise find in physical retail, then much more of a progressive mix of modern and digitally native brands mixed with some locals younger companies as well as some higher growth big names international more established brands. And instead of being now on wholesale static basis just on a sea of racks, instead, it’s more of an ever-changing footprint. Matt Alexander: So the landscape of brands and products and categories represented is changing all the time. So the points of consistency, restaurant team fixtures create something that feels a little bit like a department store. So it helps set those expectations and helps you wrap your head around what you’re in. But for brands it’s… For them, it can be a lot of different things. So you might look at it as a real estate channel to test a new area in the country, for others it’s more of a marketing channel to get in front of more people, for others it’s a sales channel, of course, traditionally it might be that for brand adjacency and otherwise. Matt Alexander: And so a lot of them look at it as a hop, skip, and a jump away from having their own pop-up, but without having to stuff it, build it, design it, manage it. And so the ultimate result is that for the consumer, you get something really vibrant, exciting, interesting that’s changing all the time.  And so that’s us, a lot of different things to a lot of different people, but at the core of it, something that presents in honestly a fairly traditional way to the end consumer, where it’s just a very progressive, exciting mix of brands that’s presented through a very relevant angle and lens. But a lot of different things for all the brands and partners we work with as well.   Julia Raymond Hare: 2021 also delivered new incredible experience-driven stores this year, including the Harry Potter Store in New York City’s Flatiron District, a Canada Goose Snow Room in Southern California and, opening this month, the return of a bigger, better and more interactive Toy R’ Us in New Jersey’s American Dream Mall.   Julia Raymond Hare: And while store experiences are certainly recreating retail, no other trend has left its mark on the industry quite like the integration of digital and mobile technology. An interactive live-streaming e-commerce platform called OOOOO brought livestreaming commerce to the UK for the first time while Amazon opened its first physical store outside the U.S. in London in March. German discount grocer Lidl also began piloting a “scan as you shop” contactless system. Let’s hear what some of our retailer friends had to say about the shift to digital.   Dan Goldman: Hi, my name is Dan Goldman. I’m Vice President of Strategy and Business Development at Gap Inc.    Dan Goldman: I think we’ll see some very interesting engagement models and digital capabilities come to life that build on the best of what we’ve seen from the last year. If the past year has been establishing a foundation for digital engagement, omnichannel capabilities, social, and whatnot. I’d expect over the next year, these executions get more refined, more profound, and retailers also add a deeper layer of personalization to them. I also think that social commerce models will continue to scale.   Dan Goldman:  I also think that winning retailers will find ways to bring the physical store and brand experiences to life in a way that are super engaging and help really reinvigorate consumer’s interest in shopping in person. They’ll need to entice consumers back and make them really appreciate why physical brand engagement is so powerful.   John Boline: Hey folks, John Boline here with Starbucks. Brands with a clearly defined and effortless digital strategy that deliver on multi-channel deliverables to reach customers where they are at. Digital has become table stakes, are really a requirement for survival in retailers in food and beverage. But I have to say those that continue to win will find success in their experience add factor. We’ve already seen a shift from routinized customer occasions to those seeking a reward or an out-of-home experience to enjoy products and services in a safe and familiar way.  Julia Raymond Hare: Speaking of reaching customers where they are, Starbucks and Amazon Go Collaborate recently launched a new pick up and go coffee shop in New York City. The new store integrates the digital and physical retail experience, bringing together the connection and comfort of a Starbucks café and convenience of Amazon Go’s Just Walk Out Shopping experience. Julia Raymond Hare: Before we break for the holidays, I’d like to take a moment to recognize all of the incredible retailers, academics, analysts and thought leaders who have shared their ideas and insights with us and our audience over the past 12 months. If you are attending NRF’s Big Show next month, be sure to download our Top Influencers’ Guide to Experiencing everything NRF Week 2022 has to offer. I look forward to catching up with all of you there and in the New Year.