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What’s the (Omni) Point-of-Sale?


By Sanford Stein, founder, Stein LLC

With the point-of-sale tucked away in one’s backpack, pocket or purse, how does the store-based retailer expect to survive in an e-everything world? And what is to become of the malls, the meccas of economic indulgence that were driven by the shop-till-you-drop dynamic we thought would last forever? We are currently in a period of just such a change wave, driven by a dramatic demographic shift, corporate downsizing, economic stagnation, and rising costs.

Combine these factors with an increasing awareness of the perils of the planet, the finite nature of our resources, and a growing sense of responsibility to take action, and we have the makings of macro change. Following are six trend drivers that I believe are predictors of things to come.

Big to Small

I believe small is the new big. Downsizing has become one of the most prevailing trends of our times, and it is likely to continue. Our homes, cars, and corporations are diminishing in scale. Our personal digital assistants, food portions, and even our pets appear to be shrinking. Obviously, there are different forces at work with each of these factors, but overall there is a new sense of practicing economy in areas where “bigger is better” used to rule.

Generalized to Specialized

While the biggest retail entities have become ever more dominant and ubiquitous, there is a growing move to smaller and more refined retail/service segments. These niche players are filling a void and fulfilling consumers’ demands for more specialized products and services in a myriad of categories. In many cases, these concepts preexisted as part of a larger retail format but have emerged as free-standing and more highly evolved specialized entities. Starbucks was a prime example of this some thirty years ago. Many other product/service concepts are emerging to meet changing consumer needs where existing services have not.

National to Local

The next significant movement afoot is one that is a reaction to the ubiquity of the “national brand” syndrome that has played out in three acts across the country. The first act began with the suburban flight that brought with it the sanitized shopping center and regional mall architectural idiom. The second act was a reaction to the first by largely supplanting the often generations-old local and regional retailers in favor of the fast-growing national specialty and department store chains. The third act appears to be a slow but recognizable resurgence of the independent and locally based retailer and the attempt of many of the big nationals to focus on regionalism and celebrate local culture.

Synthetic to Authentic

The world of marketing, advertising, and branding has perhaps done too good a job at packaging, positioning, and selling just about everything. The result seems to be a rejection of the too-slick and too-polished and a new appreciation for all that is genuine. Certainly pop culture’s affinity for the unscripted is evidenced by our interest in “reality” entertainment. Getting real is also seen in the fashion flip that used to originate on Paris runways to what is now researched and captured from the streets of our metropolitan cities.

Static to Kinetic

I’ve talked at length through-out my book about the phenomenon of omnichannel retail, that forces brand bearers to fire on all cylinders to ensure that each and every brand touch-point is in sync, so that wherever the customer chooses to engage with the brand there is a holistic synergy across the touch-points. I am and will always be a proponent of store-based retail, and I believe now more than ever we need this traditional “marketplace” for social interaction. Today, store-based concerns must explore new means to engage consumers in highly experiential ways, to remain viable.

This is at the heart of the movement, or experimentation, with a new level of temporary tenancies or pop-ups; that move occupancies from multi-year engagements to mere hours or days. These kinds of ‘here today, gone tomorrow’ events, are a key to the malls and centers reinvigoration, while complementing long-term tenants. My book “Retail Schmetail” takes this idea to a more highly evolved level in a concept called RaveRetail.

Discard to Repurpose

It is undeniable that the importance of recycling has become ingrained in our public and private institutions, in manufacturing and consumer products, and in our general attitudes. Lately, I’ve been preoccupied with a rather large recycling challenge that is in our midst. A visit to provides a sad and sobering reflection on our retail culture’s all-too-recent past.

Adaptive reuse or the recycling of dying or dead malls is not a new idea.

In I999, I was interviewed by a national periodical for a feature article entitled “The Mall Doctor” largely devoted to sprucing up moribund malls. To a far lesser extent, the article did explore the more fundamental question of their future viability. I commented that the future of many of these environments may be repurposed as “living-working-buying environments,” which I still feel may be the case.

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