When it comes to small talk about the online retail behemoth, independent shoe retailers have had their fill.
“I feel like for the last three years, all we talked about was Amazon,” James Rowley, CEO of Mephisto USA, told the audience during a seminar today at FN Platform in Las Vegas. “Over the last 12 months, a lot less people are coming to our booth and asking about Amazon. Their glory days are over. This is just a phase. Just like DSW came into the market [years ago] and were disruptive, Amazon has been disruptive for all of us. But it’s not a challenge we’re focused on. It’s not the future of any of our businesses, from a wholesale or independent standpoint. I think we should talk about something else.”
Indeed, the four panelists who joined Rowley for a conversation focused on the future of retail independents offered up a range of strategies they suggest can safeguard smaller firms from digital-born change.
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“[In-store] experience [makes] the difference — that’s what you can do,” said Bill Langrell, COO of Taos Footwear. “Online [shopping] is transactional. You have the human touch, and the internet can never provide that.”
Fernando Palazzo, area manager for Pikolinos North America, noted that while the biggest challenge remains “driving customers into the store,” once shoppers are inside, a few things can be done do secure sales and conversion.
“I believe a really well-selected product assortment is important, and ‘sit and fit’ is still relevant — I see it every time I’m in the store,” Palazzo said.
Meanwhile, Steve Mabb, EVP and GM at Vionic Group, said he’s found assurance and insight from recent data that shows a higher number of store openings versus closings.
“The numbers we’re looking at don’t support this idea that retail is dying — our take on it is that boring retailers are dead,” Mabb said. “The old [strategy] that you open your doors and wait for someone to come in — that’s not going to work moving forward. The retailers that are giving truly great experiences — things that can’t be replicated online — they’re continuing to grow. Consumer experience is [thinking about] what you can do in your stores that can’t be replicated online — and that’s personal service [and] advice around shoes.”
Similarly, Clarks Americas president Gary Champion pointed out that the millennial cohort — often thought of as the bane of traditional retailers’ existence — are more interested in brick-and-mortar than some retailers realize.
“Millennials shop more in brick-and-mortar than baby boomers,” Champion said. “So what are you doing to attract those young people in your stores? Are you carrying great product? Are you merchandising properly? Are you making an experience for that customer coming in, and are you servicing that customer?”
He added, “But the other key point is: Digital isn’t going away. It’s not just online sales — it’s digital. Everyone’s on their phones. So how do you tie into it? That’s what we’re looking at.”
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