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Retail Free Fall?

The prevailing thread in various articles about retail this month has been about the record number of store closures -- 8,640 -- expected this year in the U.S. (per the recent Credit Suisse Research Report). Phrases such as "tipping point" and "sea change" have appeared in the NYT, WSJ and the Business of Fashion, among others. People outside of the industry read these headlines and conclude "Brick and Mortar Retail is Dead". But we know that's false when we see all of the "digital only" players opening physical stores and then of course Amazon opening its 5th physical bookstore last month. People inside the industry talk about productivity per store but can't truly measure that because for the customer, the lines between channels are blurred.

There is certainly a play for offline and online retail, ideally together. Offline still generates the lion share of soft-goods retail (90+%) because tickets are higher and returns are lower. On the flip side, online is growing faster but tickets are smaller, conversions are lower and returns are higher.

The players who will survive and thrive in the next generation of retail will recognize the benefits of both channels and increase the "productivity" per customer across channels. Because it really is all about the customer. To earn her sale, the stakes are higher now. You have to serve, delight and personalize your offering, whereever she is and at any time.

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Time is undoubtedley our most precious asset. As a working Mom, I have less time to visit stores or attend shopping events. Lack of time is why I use Amazon to reorder paper towels, Instacart to order groceries and the Starbucks app to pre-order my "grande half-caf whole milk latte". I love one-click checkout and the efficiency I gain from ordering diapers while commuting to work. Technology has made "remote shopping" possible. However, when it comes to buying soft goods like clothing, furniture and decor, I'm overwhelmed by choice and still don't have the time to scroll through thousands of product online. When I do manage to scroll through 300 dresses on nordstrom.com, I order 10 dresses and return 8, feeling frustrated at how the entire experience is time-consuming and tedius. For both online and offline retailers, the consumer's lack of time remains the number one barrier to purchase.

Case in point: Amazon just opened its first physical store in the midwest last month (in my old neighborhood of the "Southport Corridor" in Chicago). The once online-only retailer who killed the local bookstore (and purportedly all other offline retail) is now opening a "local" bookstore of its own? What's the appeal? It's about discovery and using data to make sure that when you do have time to read that book, you did not waste your time.

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Does better email targeting lead to higher conversions?

Maybe. According to industry reports, email marketing yields a less than 1% conversion rate. Some email marketing firms promise to increase this rate for you by leveraging better data. Here's the problem. Even if you "read my mind" and send me an email about the bathing suits I was thinking about for my upcoming vacation, I still won't see your email. Why? Because I don't want to see your email. Not even the 75% OFF BATHING SUITS one. Seriously. To manage my unwieldy email situation, I signed up for SaneBox. Now, I don't see any marketing emails. At. All. They automagically go into my "SaneNews" folder to die.

If you are an email marketer, you know that your clients are using fake email addresses, sending your emails to their junk folders, unsubscribing or simply not giving you any email address. It's time for a new strategy to convince your clients to buy from you. (Hint: you're on the right website)