Struggling Chains Need Some Old-School Retailing

greg sleterHoliday sales grew more than expected, with the National Retail Federation, for one, reporting year-over-year growth of 4%.

That solid number should have buoyed the spirits of retailers and housewares suppliers following what was largely a perplexing year at retail. Unfortunately, news of that growth was overshadowed by headlines of Macy’s and Sears continuing their respective sales slumps and each announcing store closures.

In addition, Kohl’s and J.C. Penney also reported softer than expected holiday comps, with the latter’s chief executive recently indicating that his chain would also be closing some stores soon.

So what gives? Did everyone buy holiday gifts at Amazon, Costco and Walmart?

While the answer of where people shopped during the holidays may be answered soon, those retailers who struggled during holiday 2016 need to find ways to drive store traffic. And quickly, for some.

The key to a turnaround for struggling retailers may be found in Costco stores and on the web pages of Amazon.

User experience.

Take Costco. On any given weekend, Costco’s well-stocked stores can feel like a party. Shoppers visiting around lunchtime on a weekend day can eat their way through the store by sampling a host of items from cookies to pasta and hamburgers. (I speak from experience.)

In addition, shoppers and their oversized carts are often seen parked in front of the Vitamix demo, where the company representative on hand is chatting with consumers and providing shots of healthy beverages. A few shoppers have also been known to place a new Vitamix in their carts.

Amazon, too, has made an effort to enhance the online shopping experience for its customers. Flashy product images, how-to videos and recipes have served to give consumers something more than products to review and also entices shoppers to spend more time on site.

At a time when we’re discussing smart products, mobile communication and growth in e-commerce, maybe some old-school retailing is needed. How about bringing in local chefs for cooking demos? A fashion show in apparel. Demos in cosmetics.

More and more shoppers today need a reason to head to the mall. It’s up to retailers to drive them there.