Is brick-and-mortar retail dead?
As the head of T-Mobile’s Consumer business, and more important, someone who has worked both inside stores and in support of them for nearly my entire career, I am often asked what the role of brick-and-mortar shopping will be in the future, including if there is one at all. As online shopping has become increasingly popular over the past decade or so, it seems to be a continual point of discussion. T-Mobile’s CEO Mike Sievert (then COO) even talked about it in a social post in 2017 called Long Live the Store. And here we are today, continuing to contemplate it!
One thing I’ve learned during nearly 30 years of working in retail, is that change is constant. Large department stores. Smaller footprint stores. Pop-ups. Online shopping. In-store experiences. Curbside pickups. Doorstep drop-offs. We’re actually seeing some interesting trends emerge right now that have been brewing for some time, but likely were accelerated with the Covid-19 pandemic.
In the last two years, American consumers have spent a staggering $1.7 trillion online and e-commerce spending jumped 55% as consumers looked for safe ways to shop. But as things began to improve, consumers started to once again crave in-person options. In fact, some online-only retailers like Warby Parker and Fabletics moved to opening physical stores. The National Retail Foundation reported that in 2021 alone, more than 8,100 new physical retail stores opened.
Today, in our post-pandemic world, no surprise, customers want to shop in multiple ways – their way! Data by NeilsenIQ show that more than two-thirds of those surveyed said they have now changed the way they shop because of Covid-19. This trend is only expected to grow.
Getting back to the question at hand – Is brick-and-mortar retail dead? Here’s what I think: Yes, the way we’ve known it is dead. But it’s because physical shopping is changing – yet again – and will deliver experiences that will surprise and delight customers in ways that are more innovative than ever. We’re entering a new era of retail where customers are no longer asking for more choices, they expect it. And we agree! A one-size-fits-all-approach to retail is long gone, and if we can’t offer a multi-channel, customized retail shopping experience, then we have missed the mark. Customers want us to meet them where they want us to be. That’s a good thing, because it’s our specialty here at T-Mobile.
Last year we brought Total Experience to life – combining Care and Retail to eliminate customer pain points by streamlining issue resolution within geographical areas. Total Experience has given us tremendous opportunities to anticipate and solve problems more effectively. Now, we are reimagining retail holistically by redefining the experiences we offer and bringing even more flexibility to customers. One part of this includes narrowing in on four distinct brick-and-mortar store formats that will serve customers’ different needs.
• Signature stores. You may have already visited one of the few T-Mobile brand showrooms in iconic places around the country. These stores wow customers and employees with ultimate Un-carrier experiences, like exciting events and product launches.
• Experience stores. These company-owned Experience stores already exist today but will evolve to deliver the latest and broadest assortment of T-Mobile products and services – within 30 minutes of most customers. Much like Signature, these stores will be staffed by our customer-obsessed Mobile Experts with expertise to handle every issue … from A to Z. Customers will also have access to complete service capabilities through our Team of Experts customer service model. Soon to be our fastest-growing format, these store openings will provide new jobs around the country.
• Neighborhood stores. Customers will experience a blend of convenience and service for their everyday needs at Neighborhood stores, offering our most popular products and services. These company-owned and Authorized Retailer-operated stores will be located in large and small areas across America and will open up new job opportunities right in their communities.
• Express stores. Our new Express format – branded as Metro by T-Mobile and operated by Authorized Retailers – will offer fast ways to purchase prepaid and select postpaid products. Express will also create new jobs for the entrepreneurs (who often live in the communities) operating them.
Over time, we’ll create more visual distinction for customers to know what type of store they’re visiting to meet their needs.
We are also bringing retail directly to our customers in innovative ways.
• Mobile stores (aka Mobile Trucks). Our mobile truck fleet will provide retail services where they’re needed – at brand launch events, in underserved rural areas to get customers up and running on the T-Mobile network as it becomes available in their area (and even before a brick-and-mortar store is open) or deployed to communities affected by disasters.
• Store-in-store. We will continue to offer customers the convenience to purchase T-Mobile products and services where they already shop. Small kiosks at mass merchants and big-box retailers such as Costco, Walmart, Best Buy and elsewhere will be staffed by our T-Mobile team or trained store employees.
We’ll enhance these physical offerings with many new innovative digital experiences that will integrate seamlessly into physical retail.
Lastly, we can’t forget our secret weapon: our people. T-Mobile has the best team in wireless. Technology has transformed the way people shop, but we know that consumers also often want the option for human assistance and connection. When they do, Team Magenta will be ready to serve them as only we can!
Completely evolving our retail approach to support customers is a multi-year process, and this is just the first step of our plan. We’ve been busy working through changes in how we’ll staff our stores, hire new talent, and invest in technology to keep modernizing our systems.
We’re leaving no stone unturned, because we know if we want to achieve our mission to be the best in the world at connecting customers to their world, “good enough” won’t cut it. Looking at the road ahead, this restless, never satisfied, Un-carrier mentality will continue to fuel our customer obsession and help us become the undisputed customer experience leader.
I couldn’t be more excited for where we are headed – and can’t wait to share more along the way. Let’s go!