Actions Speak Louder Than Buzzwords

Let me start by admitting I’m party to the proliferation of certain buzzwords dominating retailing talk these days.

Those key words: Story and Experience. As in… traditional retailers looking to evade the e-commerce blitz need to tell engaging stories that contribute to unique in-store (and online) experiences.

Retail Mandate

Like many retail observers, I frequently endorse in this column storytelling and experiential retailing as mandates for successful reinvention. Why? Because I believe it works.

Preaching about the potential of better retail stories and experiences, however, is standard procedure by now. I sometimes wonder if the words are being bandied about so routinely as retail cure-alls that they are becoming white noise or hollow clichés.

It’s one thing to talk about stories and experiences. It’s quite another thing to implement them successfully against mounting operational, fiscal and competitive hurdles.

That several veteran retailers punched early and hard by e-commerce have begun to stabilize and/or renew growth is promising. Credit this to reduced store counts, streamlined operations, improved digital commerce practices and, yes, in some cases progressive merchandising.

The next step for widespread mainstream retail renewal to take root is less talk and more action to apply new concepts anchored by the compelling stories and experiences about which everyone, including vendors, is crusading.

Ever-Changing Story

Which brings me to Macy’s Inc.’s recent acquisition of Story, an experiential concept store that opened in New York City’s trendy Chelsea neighborhood in 2011.

Macy’s describes Story as “a cohesive storytelling retail model… Every four to eight weeks, the space reinvents itself— from the design of the store to the merchandise— with the goal of highlighting a new theme. Story has a heightened focus on experience, engagement and collaboration/brand partnerships.”

Story founder Rachel Shechtman will join Macy’s as “brand experience officer” presumably to adapt the ever-changing Story concept across the Macy’s chain while continuing the Chelsea store and adding more free-standing locations.

It’s an intriguing development— especially in contrast to Macy’s nearly concurrent announcement touting the expansion of its off-price Backstage format— to a pressured operator that knows it likely needs more than a wider off-price base to reaffirm its long-term retail relevance.

Retail History

It remains to be seen how and if the nimble Story concept will work on a national scale, perhaps with local flavors added. Macy’s dexterity, needed more than ever to compete in today’s climate, will be put to the test.

Retail history, though, is dotted with stories about how a single store, spurred by a breakthrough concept, progressive vision and strong organization, can spread to change the retail experience.

Continuing to preach the same buzzwords won’t make it happen. It comes down to execution.

When it works, it’s a great story.