About a year ago, Kelly Goetsch, Chief Strategy Officer at commercetools, came up with the Future of Retail Walking Tour concept. His idea was to take retailers inside forward-thinking brick-and-mortar stores to see how they use technology to deliver engaging customer experiences. “Executives know they should visit other retailers to stay current on the trends that help them remain competitive, but few actually make the time to do it.”
Kelly launched the walking tour program in New York City in October of 2022, handpicking 8 of the most innovative stores in the city to visit. 14 retailers enjoyed a guided tour that culminated with dinner at the stunning RH Rooftop restaurant, owned by the luxury home furnishings brand.
Last month, on April 26, he tackled the biggest shopping mall in the U.S., the Mall of America in Minneapolis, with 9 retail leaders in tow. The group visited multiple stores, each offering unique experiences designed to engage customers and build brand awareness and loyalty while generating higher sales.
Stops on the tour included:
M&M’s: Personalize your M&M’s with any image
Oakley: Design your own pair of sunglasses
Crayola Experience: Create your own custom color and wrapper
Abercrombie & Fitch Co.: Interactive fitting “suites”
SEPHORA: In-store personalized foundation color matching
Lululemon: Live streaming fitness Studio Mirror
The LEGO Store: Design your own mosaic and brick
Capital One Café: Workspace, coffee shop and bank
Karl’s Fishing & Outdoors: Digital fishing lure demonstrations
There’s an awful lot of boring retail out there. We keep hearing about brands filing bankruptcy — part of the reason is that they have terrible in-store experiences. The brands that are doing well, are doing innovative things in their stores. They're building their brand with experiences, which we uniquely enable.
Chief Strategy Officer, commercetools
Kelly is already thinking about hosting another New York City event, followed by ones in Chicago, and either Atlanta or Miami. While the biggest benefit of the walking tours is experiencing these cool in-store concepts, he thinks having the opportunity to network with peers brings a lot of value to the experience. “With these last two events, the attendees were all best friends by the time we were done.”
To get a better perspective on the experience, we asked a few of the executives at the Mall of America tour to share why they signed up, what impressed them most, and how they felt about the guided tour approach. Here are some of their responses.
Zohaib Amjad, Sr. Director IT, Jostens
“I’ve known Kelly for a long time and I thought this would be a good opportunity to see him and learn a little bit more about what's happening in the retail space and what the new trends are in commerce.
“Seeing the way stores are using virtual reality and image processing is very exciting from my perspective. At Josten’s, we do a lot of work with image processing and virtual reality for our college rings and whatnot. I heard about Sephora's image processing and how they’re identifying skin tone and color, but I never saw it in action. So, that was pretty cool.”
“It's very important to get on top of the trends and learn what other people are doing in the retail space. You can learn a lot online, but connecting with people and hearing about how they’re solving real-time problems; there's a lot of value in that. You can get information on online, but the person-to-person connection? We’ve been missing that for the last three years.”
Eric Caron, Sr. Director of Digital Experience, Caribou Coffee
“I really appreciated the variety of stores we visited. Being able to see everything from M&Ms to Oakley sunglasses, we covered the gambit. I like that the technology in the stores isn’t intimidating. Normally, you hear about digital and you think about a giant screen in your face. At all of the stores we visited, it's been a very natural fit — the way it works both from the team member's perspective and from the guest perspective. So, I like that we're talking about digital, but in marketing it to the store, digital isn't exactly hitting you in the head.”
“I never would have imagined walking into Abercrombie & Fitch and going to the dressing room and seeing technology there. Having the commercetools expertise here to say, ‘You wouldn't expect to see X here, but check it out.’ Same with Oakley, getting to see the way that the glasses can be put together and that the associates have backup tools in case the technology is down. Having a liaison lead us to questions I wouldn't have otherwise thought to ask — that’s been really nice.”
“My boss has a quote, ‘We’re trying to do cool, not creepy,’ and it’s very easy to cross that line. So, I’m always looking for ways to explore how we can help our guests have the best coffee experience and make it approachable so that we’re cool, not creepy. We’re constantly evaluating what the market can do, what the market should do, what’s easy to do, and what we can do with the stack we have right now. That’s really how I’m looking to help our brand and today’s walkabout helps me get there faster.
Justin Schmid, eCommerce Merchandising Manager, Cub
“There are so many different technologies today and no two companies are alike. Being able to walk through and see how all of these different brick-and-mortar retailers are engaging their customers in ways that provide an omnichannel experience is something that's really interesting to me for the grocery industry. I’m looking at how we continue to go down that road and serve customers across both channels.
“What's impressing me is that I’m finding so many different ways for the customers to engage with products that they haven't been able to before. Everyone on the tour is coming at it from their own perspective and their own background. Obviously, for me, that’s grocery, but being able to feed off ideas from each other, it really helps with the full understanding.”
“I think as we move forward, we [Cub] will continue to find ways to better serve customers. I think it's going to be efficiencies — especially in the grocery sector. The trip to the grocery store isn't going to take several hours a week anymore. You're going to have a five-minute stop on your way home or have groceries efficiently delivered to your house at a lower cost.”
Matt Daubenspeck, Director - Amazon Global, Apothecary Products
“The store technology that had the most impact on me was the fishing lure wall that showed the video of the lure you pulled out from the wall. I had not seen technology like that before and since I like to fish, it was interesting too.”
“The group dynamic was great and it was helpful that our hosts did research ahead of time and knew what to ask about. I met some good people and was very impressed by the generosity of the hosts. They made sure everyone had a chance to take something special home and treated us to drinks and apps afterward.”
To learn more about how you can leverage commerce technology to seamlessly connect your physical and digital experiences, download our white paper, “The Omnichannel Playbook: Leveraging Composable Commerce for Omnichannel Experiences.”