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The Future of Retail: 3 Key Insights from Our Shoptalk Roundtable

We hosted our first-ever roundtable dinner to kick off Shoptalk, a retail conference that took place from March 3-6. During the roundtable we discussed the future of retail and how brands can engage the modern family. Our guests included VCs, retail experts, brands, and tech C-Suites. After the appetizers, we asked everyone to officially introduce themselves and share their favorite store (other than Fourpost, of course!). What was intended as a quirky icebreaker was actually pretty telling in terms of motivations people have for shopping in real life.

Here are the three biggest takeaways from our dinner conversation:

1. Customers want an escape.

Shoppers want a store that they can identify with. They want to be taken somewhere else through the experience and the products. One of our roundtable guests said that Patagonia was his favorite store because he has a passion for the outdoors and he likes their products. A few others mentioned stores that brought back memories from childhood. These range from a sports memorabilia merchant selling baseball and hockey cards to a mom and pop record shop in Chicago with rare and vintage records that they’ve been selling for decades.

Whether it’s imagining yourself on top of a mountain or going back to a favorite childhood memory, these products, collectibles, and things do spark joy. And stores are the places that bring all of this together. The feelings of passion or nostalgia that come from physical retail and actual experience are difficult to replicate online.

2. Customers want shopping to be easy.

Some major brands like Trader Joe’s and Nordstrom were mentioned because of their incredible customer service. They focus on making the physical shopping experience easy for people. Anne Mezzenga from Red Archer noted that she adores Nordstrom because she can order online and pick up in-store. Since she buys a lot of the same items over and over for her kids, she appreciates their quick and easy process.

Trader Joe’s was another favorite because of their consistent solution-oriented customer service. For example, if they are out of your favorite multigrain bar, they reply with something like, “Sorry we’re out, but we just got these in yesterday and they are fantastic. Try a sample here.”

3. Customers want discovery.

There were several instances where discovery was the motivation behind our guests’ favorite stores. I personally mentioned the Package Free Shop in Brooklyn as my favorite store of the moment—and not just because of the obvious sustainability factor. It was the first store in a long time where I discovered many unique brands in one place. Their cleverly curated items (like plantable cards) and zero waste packaging get me to pop in pretty frequently. One of the companies I discovered there was Stasher, which makes reusable silicone storage bags. I was immediately inspired by their concept to eliminate Ziploc bag usage, which I was able to share upon meeting their VP, Digital earlier in the day at a Shoptalk TableTalk.

When our roundtable took off their retail hats, they spoke as consumers. They didn’t talk about which stores have really clean data, whether they loved their influencer campaigns, or if these stores had great 1:1 communication at scale, which were all topics heavily covered at this year’s Shoptalk.

Instead, our guests spoke about the ways that physical stores and products in those stores made them feel.

At Fourpost, we’re going to keep these three motivations—escapism, ease of experience, and discovery—top of mind. As a startup, there’s certainly low-hanging fruit that we can act on to improve our customer experience. For example, we can ensure our amazing community associates have the tools to make product suggestions like Trader Joe’s. And we can implement creative ways for guests to escape for an hour—whether through a new event or product experience.

While the retail C-Suites on stage at Shoptalk discussed the ways they’re successfully creating the retail experience of the future, they had little tactical application on how to do so. As a result, we learned more from our roundtable guests and focusing on their own experiences as consumers.

And to our roundtable guests, thank you for letting us use your favorites to wrap up our first Shoptalk experience. The next step for Fourpost is to learn more about what our customers are passionate about, what they desire, or what they want to discover—with hopes of one day being considered their favorite.