Bed Bath & Beyond recently joined the long list of formerly robust retail chains to fall upon hard times, closing or planning to close roughly 400 of its 760 brick-and-mortar locations. A recently completed stock offering will help the company avoid filing for bankruptcy for now but that move may be nothing more than a temporary fix.
And it’s not just Bed Bath & Beyond. Drugstore giants CVS and Walgreens have been shuttering locations since spring and fall 2022, respectively and retailers including Big Lots and Macy’s revealed plans in January to follow suit this year.
It’s not all doom and gloom for the retail sector, though. Sam’s Club is set to open 30 new warehouses over the coming years. Discount chains Dollar General, Family Dollar and Five Below have been opening new stores since last year.
And Kohl’s is going big on small, with plans to debut 100 recent smaller-format locations. It’s also partnering with personal care and beauty product maker Sephora to add in-store Sephora shops in 850 Kohl’s locations this year.
What should other retailers focus on in order to avoid following Bed Bath & Beyond and the others on their downhill trajectory?
Give people a reason to care that their stores exist.
Bed Bath & Beyond survived the thick of the pandemic due to the demand for home goods by people confined to their homes and increased digital sales. It fought off challenges from online options like Amazon longer than many of its counterparts. But the experience of physically shopping in its stores began to lean too heavily on its famous (or infamous) “20% off one single item” coupons and the benefits of taking the time to go to the store diminished.
What will it take to make potential customers put down their smartphones or tablets and physically go to a store? And what can stores do to enhance the experience for walk-in customers and convince them that while every item under the sun may be available via Amazon, they are gaining more by shopping in real life?
Home Depot has become a go-to retail resource for contractors. Still, one of the key pillars of its success has been how associates who are experts in their respective departments offer assistance to average Joes who may be overwhelmed by all the options when shopping for a lightbulb.
That strategy can be applied across any type of retailer: There’s a difference between leaving shoppers to figure out which items best suit their needs and providing expert help to ensure that they walk out confident in their purchase.
Make store visits an experience.
Allowing shoppers to roam the aisles is boring and retailers are tasked with figuring out ways to change that.
Rather than simply displaying items, they can show shoppers how those items may look in their homes, either through newer technology, like augmented reality or, if they have the room, recreate living spaces, as IKEA does.
Social media campaigns and ecommerce are nice but organic, user-generated social posts are more impactful. Special events and store displays will likely lead to posting across social platforms mentioning the retailer and the specific store.
And while retail chains may be national or international, don’t forget that stores are local. Involve the community. Depending on the types of goods sold and available space, giving local residents perks like early access to new merchandise or exclusive deals will boost loyalty.
Inventory: Quality over quantity
One area for retailers to consider is the number of products they offer. When I walk into a store, I expect a curated collection. I want them to do the work for me, collect the top products in each category and be prepared to help inform my decision.
Rather than offering 60 types of pillows, offer 15 and make sure those 15 represent selections to fit every type of sleeper. Which ones are best suited for people who need more neck support? Which helps overheated sleepers remain cool?
Shoppers need something to help distill down the chaos. If someone walks through the doors of a bookstore without a specific title or author in mind, they are met with thousands, if not millions, of options. But offering a curated section of recommendations from the bookstore’s staff gives them an easier entry point and providing context on why staffers recommended the books in that section helps them get a better handle on what they want to read next.
People will Care if They Trust You
While anyone within driving distance of a mall is likely aware of Bed Bath & Beyond’s 20% off policy, trust in the coupons has waned, with customers suspecting that the retailer simply marks up its items by 20% as a counter move. The chain should consider re-establishing a new means of trust, by simply relaunching their price-matching policy which is less than a footnote for their shoppers.
We don’t know how the situation at Bath & Beyond will play out and we may not learn the answer to that question for quite some time. Still, Amazon isn’t going away anytime soon, ecommerce continues to grow. Social commerce options are emerging, giving shoppers more and more reasons to browse on their devices instead of in the aisles of stores.
The critical question that brick-and-mortar retailers, big and small, thriving and struggling, need to ask themselves is: Why should people care that our stores exist? If those shoppers stop caring, the battle is lost.
About the Author
As Creative Director of Something Different, Richard works to find a singular voice for each brand and then use that voice in unexpected ways, to entertain, educate and sell, making your message impossible to ignore. In over 20 years in advertising, Richard has collaborated with and led a wide range of teams to develop and create effective, memorable work. A writer, he has worked in Dublin, Paris and New York (for Ogilvy and Publicis) on global brands like IBM, American Express, Kodak and Citi.