For years, every media outlet has reported about the thousands of store closures sweeping the country, with big key players of the American retail landscape (think Sears, Kmart and Payless) filing for bankruptcy. But there have also been signs of revival. 

Digitally native brands like Glossier, and Warby Parker have been opening creative and engaging brick-and-mortar concepts that generate quite the excitement. Customers are willing to line up, for sometimes hours, to walk through Glossier’s immersive store (and snag a selfie in front of their iconic “you look good” mirrors). In 2018, Warby Parker transformed an old school bus into a rolling store, driving around the country for 18 months and setting up pop-ups in 15 different cities.

So what will the future hold for traditional retailers? Will every store need to have an “Instagram wall” or a fun activation to get customers in the store? Do people even want to shop IRL? We sat down with Julie Zeltser, RTR’s very own Head of Stores, to get her point of view.

In recent years, the dynamics between customers and brands have been evolving. What do you see shifting and, from your point of view, what’s driving this change?

Customers have access to more choices than ever before, therefore they are educated, well-informed, and unwilling to compromise on their values. In order for a brand to resonate with potential clients, we must listen closely to their demands. Today the customer has much more of an active voice, and that is leading to incredible innovation in consumer product development, sustainability, and brand experience.  

What role will physical retail locations play in the future of shopping?

Given the impact of e-commerce, the retail industry is in the midst of a significant evolution. In order for brick-and-mortar to succeed, we must raise the bar on the level of experience we offer.

We live in a world where someone can sit in the comfort of their own home and engage with their favorite brand at the click of a button. Despite this amazing advancement, customers continue to visit stores, not only to “touch the product”, but specifically to connect with us in a way that they can’t through a screen. 

We have the capacity and the responsibility to elevate the customer journey within retail spaces, both visually and through the integration of technology. If retailers are interested in keeping customers, they have an obligation to maintain human interaction while embracing the benefits of innovation.

Where is the biggest, most immediate opportunity for retailers to make an impact?

Community building! Brands that have the advantage of a physical presence are able to connect and interact with the local customer in a way strictly digital companies can’t. Having direct, face-to-face access to a neighborhood community allows companies to build brand loyalty and opens up countless opportunities for meaningful partnerships and collaborations. 

There’s a lot of talk about using customer data to create better shopping experiences. How does customer data inform what RTR stores look like? 

Our business model in stores is always evolving and growing. Every day we are learning so much about how our customer engages with us! Our teams are flexible and creative, and we are able to pivot quickly and adapt to our customers’ needs as we continue to elevate the experience.

In your opinion, will the “sharing economy” and rental services be the end of traditional retail?

While the “sharing economy” has forever transformed the industry, and will continue to do so, I don’t think traditional retail will ever cease to exist. There is so much opportunity for brands to improve upon their product offering to keep up with consumer demands and stay relevant, and companies such as RTR can accelerate that advancement. 

Any bold predictions for the future of brick-and-mortar commerce?

I don’t know if this counts as bold, but I believe brick-and-mortar stores will not only continue to elevate the experience they offer their customer, but truly serve as a physical manifestation of brand identity. I envision a world where, if a guest chooses to purchase something from a retail store, it’s not only need-based, but also because they are inspired and wish to be a part of the magic.

Find a RTR store near you, and learn more about our all-new West Coast Flagship (from the two women who designed it).