Is WFH Killing Retail IRL? 4 Ways for Brick & Mortar Retailers to Stay Competitive


The work-from-home trend is old news by now. If you operate a brick-and-mortar retail store, you don’t need to be reminded how the sudden shift to remote work upended the calculus for businesses like yours.

Whether you’ve figured out a new normal or you’re still working toward that equilibrium, you know you need to adapt to survive. Luckily, you don’t need to look far for inspiration. Brick-and-mortar success stories are surprisingly plentiful amid the work-from-home washout, and new ones are written every day.

Let’s take a look at four strategies that have worked well for independent retailers that depend on in-person, real-world transactions. Chances are, you can adapt at least one or two to your own retail operation.

1. Invest in Pop-Up Stores & Experiences

Novelty sells, especially for consumers spending more time at home than before. They’re primed to respond to bespoke, one-time (or limited-time) opportunities to experience something new and different.

Pop-up retail certainly qualifies as “new and different.” And it’s far more practical for smaller retailers to invest in thanks to new resources like xNomad, an international pop-up retail platform that global executive Lorenzo Bonfiglio has helped expand into the U.S. Another advantage: Once the upfront work of developing a concept and planning the execution phase are done, there’s not much left for the operator to do.

2. Draw in New & Returning Customers With Events (Not Just Sales)

Your retail environment is not simply a place to store stuff for sale. It’s also a gathering place, a community hub, somewhere for likeminded (and not-so-likeminded) people to gather and interact.

In short, it’s an events space. Or it can be if you make it so. Think creatively; with adequate resources and a full calendar, there’s no real limit to what’s possible.

3. Leverage Rewards Apps & Other Shopper Incentives

Getting customers into your store (or onto your website) is only the first step. Once you have them where you want them, it’s your job to maximize their conversion potential.

Third-party rewards apps can help. They’re especially helpful for incenting customers that don’t have rewards credit cards, and they typically offer better returns (albeit more narrowly targeted) than those anyway. Better yet, they’re free to consumers, reducing friction and (hopefully) offsetting any potential cost to you.

Don’t lose sight of the basics either. For example, if you’re struggling to make your legacy payment processing solution work in the new normal, look around for user-friendly, scalable, reasonably priced alternatives like Lightspeed. Any reduction in worry around core operating functions like these counts as a victory.

4. Build a Bespoke App for In-Store Marketing and More

Third-party apps are great, but why not invest in an app of your own? Driven by rapid AI advances, the low-code revolution means basically anyone can become an app developer, including store owners who can’t tell Javascript from Python.

The beauty of having your own retail app is that it can be purpose-built. It can do whatever you want it to do within reasonable operating parameters. And as long as you abide by the policies of the third-party app stores you offer it through, it leaves you beholden to precisely zero third parties.

Retail Isn’t Dead — It’s Just Changing

No one in retail has a crystal ball. Not even leadership at Amazon or Target or Walmart (and maybe especially not them, these days).

However, it’s plain as day that the retail space is changing rapidly and that true equilibrium is a long way off, if it ever returns. That means it’s up to the individual leaders and teams at millions of retail enterprises to develop and implement strategies that they believe give them the best chance at success in the coming years.

Some of these strategies will fail. Others will succeed. External forces and blind luck will, as always, play a role. But those who take the fact of change seriously — who acknowledge that there’s simply no going back to the way things were — will be more likely to succeed.

Will you count yourself among them? There’s only one way to find out.