Surviving the Retail Revolution

By Paul Bernstein, Marketing Director, Retail, Valassis
Published Friday, Jun 23, 2017

Surviving the Retail Revolution

We’re in the midst of a revolution – a revolution in the retail landscape. We see it, read about it and experience it every day. It is a revolution that pits brick and mortar against e-commerce.

For consumers, this is the good kind of revolution, because we win. The emergence of the internet has altered the balance of economic power. The consumer is now in charge. We decide what to buy, when to buy, where to buy, how to buy, and how much to pay. Then we communicate about our prowess across an array of social media channels where we can engage thousands within seconds.

But with all revolutions, there are winners and losers. Among the losers are brick and mortar retailers and entire shopping malls. A Fortune Magazine article that ran this past December,1 noted that hundreds of shopping centers across the United States are facing obsolescence, abandoned by shoppers who are going online. It went on to suggest that 15 percent of U.S. malls could be in jeopardy in the next decade, the inevitable unwinding of years of overbuilding. This comes from Simon Property, the largest mall owner in America.

In addition, well known retailers Macy’s, JCPenney, Kohl’s, Dillard’s, and Sears Holdings have collectively closed some 750 stores since 2013, or 20 percent of their units. And, we’ve seen a number of bankruptcies in the past two years – including Aéropostale, Wet Seal, Pacific Sunwear and American Apparel, to name a few.5

Kiran Mani, managing director of retail for Google, offered that, foot traffic in U.S. retail stores, during the holiday season, has fallen precipitously in recent years – from 41 billion “footfalls” in 2011 to 16 billion in 2016.2

A Business Insider article cites a Piper Jaffrey & Co study3 finding that mall visits among women – a mall’s most critical customer – dropped from 18.3 mall visits per year in the fall of 2013 to 8.4 visits per year measured in spring of 2015. Even mall visits among teens dropped about 30 percent from 41 visits to 29 per year from 2007 to 2015 according to the data.

While some retailers struggle, others have cracked the code… at least for now. Many in the discount segment are thriving. Retailers like TJ Maxx and Ross flourish as consumers hunger for superior value. Then there are the “fast fashion” brick and mortar retailers like H&M, Zara and Forever 21 who have refined a quick- turn model to consistently give their customers new fashions, seemingly monthly. This concept is so hot that international brands like Uniqlo and Primark are aggressively opening stores.

As challenging as the retail landscape has become, there are basic strategies that retailers can implement to foster more positive results. These are not operational changes, but a new way forward in marketing approach.

The first step – like any good 12-step program – is to acknowledge you’ve got a problem. Business Insider notes that, Americans are increasingly choosing to spend on technology and experiences like vacations, leaving less money for apparel. 4

Retailers need to re-imagine how to go to market. In today’s “always-connected” environment, integrating a sound digital program into your plan is no longer optional, but rather an essential part of a well-structured marketing plan.

Consider this astounding statistic from a commentary by the Center for Media Research – 92 percent of consumers visit a brand’s website for the first time to do something other than make a purchase.5 Consumers are gathering information. It’s what we do in this self-serve world of researching products, comparing prices, contrasting brands and looking for store hours, locations, maps, offers and more.

We look at our smartphones, tablets, laptops, desktops and at the printed pieces we receive at home. As a result of this connectivity, we’re exposed to, and engage with, more ad messages than ever before.  

With consumers receiving such a high volume of information, across so many media touch-points, the only way a retailer can break through is to be where the consumer is, when they are there. Or put another way, via implementation of a well thought out cross-channel marketing approach.

To simplify the concept, it starts with identifying your best customers, then remaining engaged with those customers across offline media like print and online media such as smartphones, tablets and home-based devices. The key is to utilize cross-channel marketing to engage that same high-value customer along their purchase journey.

There is an abundance of data supporting the value of cross-channel marketing:

  • Unified cross-media campaigns were on average 57 percent more effective than those that aren’t. 6
  • According to a 2016 Salesforce Study, successful marketers are nearly 35 times more likely to use cross-channel marketing with their customers versus under-performing teams who struggle to use this tactic at all.7
  • A Ninth Decimal Study tells us that cross-device ad campaigns are 60 percent more effective at in-store conversions than desktop-only campaigns.8

As brick and mortar retailers consider ways to more effectively compete against Amazon and other e-commerce entities, a solid first step would be to re-imagine a marketing plan that leverages a cross-channel media approach that engages the retailer’s best customers where they live, work, shop and play. For some, hopefully, this will be step one in your own 12-step program toward surviving the retail revolution.


1. “Simon Property Group Fights to Reinvent the Shopping Mall”:

2. Foot traffic in U.S. retail stores, during the holiday season:

3. “Malls are losing their most lucrative customers”:

4. “American malls are dying faster than you think – and it’s about to get even worse”:

5. “Almost Everybody Starts With “Just Looking”

6.  AdAge / ARF: Brands should be spending $31 Billion more this year than they are

7. Salesforce Study

8. Ninth Decimal; Cross Device measurement benchmarks