Today’s Gen Z gift registrants want to do everything online, often on their iPhone 14. They want to start a registry, add products, remove products, edit quantities, and view purchases. They don't want to call the store to do this.
In the adoption of digital tools, another trend is also at play: female shoppers are busier than before. Today, more women graduate from college than men. Women are increasingly doctors, CEOs, and world leaders. (Italy just welcomed its first female prime minister.) We had a bride-to-be from Mississippi living in Saudi Arabia on a medical mission, and she registered online with her local store in Biloxi. From Riyadh. Now, that's hot. Cardi B should write a song about that. Zola, an online registry provider, has seized on this trend. Zola gives women their time back by allowing them to do all of the registry processes online. This reminded me of a recent Wall St. Journal article on a keyless hotel entry trend. A hotel customer remarked, "I literally never went to the front desk, never talked to an employee,” said the customer. “It was a beautiful experience.” Many brides would paraphrase this when asked about their registry experience on Zola. The demand for this convenience is evident: Zola is valued at more than $1b.
Our store owners may wish to believe that retail is at its core about people, but when one shops on Amazon, one often doesn’t know who the seller is. If people really do care about people, then why is Amazon so popular? Because people care first and foremost about convenience, large selection, low prices, and quick delivery. Amazon is a faceless, people-less interaction and yet it has become one of the world’s largest and most trusted retailers. Yet, no shopper can name a person that works there. We will fail if we try to sell on the fact that Larry, the store owner, has a vintage guitar collection and an astronomy club. There’s a saying: one person’s trash is another person's treasure. I’d add to that that one store owner’s fun, small talk is another customer's annoying time sink. On the weekends, customers want to see their friends, not Larry. People love technology's convenience and in general, want to skip dealing with strangers—including store owners. Big-box stores have are also failing with offering a compelling in-store experience. Macy’s bought Story, an in-store experience company, and has since practically shut it down.
While I admire Amazon and Zola’s digital prowess, they don't support local communities as our 1,100 indie stores do. Many shoppers want the taste (convenience) of Amazon and Zola, but don’t want the calories (the negative side effects) of these technology companies. Often, shopping online has some negative side effects, including creating empty strip malls, reducing tax collection, underfunding roads which leads to potholes, and decreasing local employment. Sadly, technology often replaces people. When we buy a gift online or check in to a hotel using our iPhone, it often cuts out people. In contrast, shopping local is often made up of physical, analog, and manual interactions performed by people. Bridge's job--and opportunity--is to marry technology and the shop local movement. Shopping locally with our stores creates vibrant communities and boosts local jobs. How can we embrace the shop local movement and time-saving technology, which appear to be at odds with each other?
If the shopper wants to use their iPhone and skip driving to the store (and hearing about the next lunar eclipse), our job is to: let them. That’s right, we’re going to help the customer--and this will enrich the store owner. It may be a blow to their ego, but it’s great for surviving and growing in this retail market. Today, a registrant still has to come into the store, yet I envision a time when a registrant never has to enter the store. We have to offer this because young shoppers don’t visit stores; they get deliveries from them. Amazon and Zola are essentially warehouses with retail websites. The indie store will need to embrace digital and operate more like a mini-warehouse. Customers want this, and this approach has high ROI and scalability.
With these trends in mind, this week we launched a new feature for gift registrants. A registrant, such as a bride, can now request their gift online. For example, when Sara is gifted five Versace dinner plates, she can go to her registry on The Ivy House, a boutique in Dallas, and request the plates for pick up. No need to call, email, or stop by the store. This new feature is in line with our overall goal: to make everything digital.
We may also choose to offer these features:
Let customers book appointments online. (Walmart and other major retailers do this.)
Let customers schedule curbside delivery online. (I know this was a 2021 trend, and but it’s still on my to-do list.)
We want to encourage stores to have iPads which can work on the sales floor and in the warehouse.
We want to use digital to ensure that we offer a large selection of gifts with low prices and quick delivery. Our Product Syncing service has made notable in-roads in this area.
I can hear store owners crying that they didn’t get into retail 30 years ago to be a digital business and operate like a warehouse. I think they can still run their traditional shop, it’s just that less square footage will be dedicated to the in-store shopping experience. I believe a store’s square footage should reflect the revenue source. For example, a current Bridge retailer receives about 50% of their revenue from online sales, yet 80% of their store is dedicated to in-person shopping. They may need to tweak that.
When store owners think that people care about them and fail to see demographic trends, that’s vanity. Vanity is fatal in business. Store owners moving from indie shop to a digital-first, warehouse model will be humbling, but it’s the best way to ensure a successful shop local movement. This digital approach helps the store's revenue and increases the likelihood the owner can sell it when they retire. Nothing is better for esteem than success.