business news in context, analysis with attitude

by Kevin Coupe

SCOTTSDALE — Here at the 10th annual StorePoint networking and education event, things got rolling last night with a presentation entitled "What Can First World Merchants learn From Emerging Markets?" delivered by Paco Underhill, CEO/founder of Envirosell, the behavioral research and consulting firm. "The cutting edge of modern retail is not here," he told the audience of store designers, planners, real estate executives and suppliers.

In essence, Underhill argued for a more experience-based marketing approach that "understands the architecture of design" with a real and tactical appreciation for how people live their lives and do their shopping.

Underhill used a variety of examples from around the world to make his point. Among them:

• A mall that uses the top floor of its parking lot as a drive-in theater, not just filling it at night with people who want to watch movies, but turning itself into a community center with broader appeal.

• Retailers that drop converted shipping containers into locations, knowing that these movable stores can be expanded if they work, and relocated if they do not. "Why is retail about getting them to come to us, as opposed to us going to them?" he said.

• Stores that have heightened security in parking lots, even searching suspicious cars, as mass shootings like the one last year in Kenya have created anxiety about the safety of public places. (This isn't just a third world problem, as recent shootings in Maryland and Indiana have shown, he said.)

• Stores in Asia that actually slaughter chickens, ducks and pigs on the premises so customers have real confidence in how fresh and local they are. (This may be the ultimate in retail theater, but in this country, the US Department of Agriculture and Food and Drug Administration might have something to say about it.)

• A department store that has "no men" sections, so that women looking for a blouse, for example, don't have to go to the dressing room to try one on - they can just do it right at the rack.

Underhill suggested that since as much as 80 percent of supermarket purchases are "routine," retailers have to find new ways to present products, since at some level it will be the ability to break those routines - to curate products in effective ways - that will allow retailers to generate new sales dollars.

The ability to "give good store," Underhill said, is more than just a function of design. "It is easy to change design," he said. "It is much harder to change a corporate culture." And ultimately, design ends up being a reflection of corporate culture.
KC's View:
While I am hesitant to disagree with someone of Underhill's stature, there is one statement he made with which I would take issue.

At one point, he said that "if the operative word for the 20th century was strategy, the operative word for the 21st century is tactics."

While I think I understand the point he is trying to make, I think he's wrong.

Tactics are what make a great strategy work. But without a strategic vision, it seems to me, tactics usually end up being unfocused. To be an effective marketer, you can't have one without the other. And, you have to know the difference … that there is a difference between a tactic and a strategy.

On Day Two of StorePoint 2014, it'll be my privilege to speak to the conference. And then, on Day Three, it'll be Amber MacArthur - the entrepreneur and social media expert - who will be wrapping things up.