Building the Future of Retail: Key Learnings from Future Stores Seattle

June 23, 2023

That’s a wrap on Future Stores Seattle! The Zipline crew was in attendance, and we spent the week soaking up new ideas on retail operations, design, digital, and technology. Here are some of our favorite takeaways from the speaking sessions:

Embrace AI and automation.

Did you know there are more than 220,000 possible combinations of coffees, flavors, foams, and more that can go into making a Starbucks beverage? That’s a lot for a Starbucks Partner to keep track of. 

John Boline, VP of Store Design at Starbucks, spoke about how the coffee brand is bringing automation into stores to ease the burden on employees. In fact, Starbucks has a massive R&D facility in their Seattle HQ dedicated to figuring out the right combination of “automation and craft.” In other words – do customers care if a Barista puts whipped cream on their mocha? Or, can a robot do it?

“80% of the jobs that will exist in 10 years haven’t been created yet,” said Boline. “We are going to have to learn how to work with [robots] and ultimately ask ourselves: “What’s uniquely human? What’s automated?” 

Similarly, Boot Barn recently embraced generative AI to uplevel the knowledge of their associates (or “Store Partners” as the brand calls them) across the brand’s 350+ stores.

John Hazen, Chief Digital Officer at Boot Barn, spoke on stage about “bAndIt” – a virtual assistant powered by ChatGPT that’s integrated into all in-store handheld devices. Store Partners can type questions into the devices – such as “What’s the difference between a steel toe boot and a safety composite toe boot?” – and get answers back. “The best part,” said Hazen, “is that we get a log of all the questions asked, which fundamentally changes and helps inform the training we put together for stores.”

It’s ok to opt out of tactics and trends.

When it comes to delivering a top customer experience at Lush, what the brand ISN’T doing is just as important as what they are doing.

Instead of hopping on the Ship From Store train, Lush decided to partner with an online delivery service to provide 1-hour and same-day deliveries to local customers. 

“We didn’t want our teams to be bogged down with packing materials and extra processes – we wanted them to be out on the shop floor interacting with customers,” said Nicole DeVeau, Business Development Program Manager at Lush. The result is more time for quality interactions with shoppers, resulting in incremental sales (and more bookings for Lush Parties).

Lush has also opted out of another common retail marketing tool: social media. “We felt that participating in a platform that was unsafe for some of our customers wasn’t the right thing to do,” said DeVeau. 

To fill the gap in that equation, Lush has been able to build excitement and loyalty around their brand by focusing on three things: B2B, collaborations, and brick-and-mortar (there are 10 stores opening in 2023 -2024, with more in the pipeline.) Above all, Devau emphasized, “the most important thing is to be physically present in our community.”

Equip associates to better serve customers.

How do you guarantee a memorable customer experience? Matt Werder, VP of Retail Operations at Fleet Feet, believes it all comes down to training. The specialty athletic shoe retailer has “a wide range of customers,” said Werder. “Everybody from avid runners who are always training, to individuals who might get a note from a doctor and have never run a mile in their life. We want to make sure that our store teams can figure out which customer they’re dealing with and how to then personalize that experience.”

Fleet Feet trains all associates on a specific sales process that starts with a customer interview – one that helps determine what the customer’s goals are – so they can then tailor a fit experience accordingly. From there, Fleet Feet uses technology to help associates make product recommendations. The training also ensures associates know about foot anatomy and body mechanics, so when a customer comes in with a foot condition, they know how to help.

Luxury resale brand The RealReal takes a more holistic approach. With so many potential SKUs it can be difficult to serve up product knowledge, so the brand focuses on identifying the right associates in the hiring process. “Our associates come in with a passion, and it’s how we nurture it,” explained Kim Rila, Sr. Talent Acquisition Business Partner at The RealReal. 

“We look for three things: the ability to drive results, collaborate, and lead,” said Rila. “If you have those three things under your belt, we can teach you anything. You might not know 900 brands, but you are already a successful candidate.”

Clicks to Bricks is a legit strategy.

For digital native mattress brand Saatva, the purpose of brick-and-mortar stores can be summed up in a single word: anchoring. “Wherever we have a store, it anchors our entire omnichannel ecosystem,” said Saatva’s Co-Founder and Chief Strategy Officer, Ricky Joshi.

Saatva started as an exclusively online business a decade ago and has since expanded onto brick-and-mortar with 11 stores. “We find that customers who come in store have a higher order value, try out different products, and have higher loyalty,” said Joshi. “Having physical retail as the embodiment of our web experience has been fantastic for the company.”

It helps that the brand has ten years of customer data to build on. Past online sales show where people shop online and how much they spend. Chad Lundeen, VP of Real Estate at Saatva, explained: “We take those ten years and go zip code by zip code to create a massive heatmap. From there, we can dive down into designated market areas (DMAs) and rank those DMAs. That gives us a playbook and helps us start to look at where we should build new stores.” As a result, the brand is looking to open 8-10 stores per year.

Zipline is how retailers bring brand strategies to life in stores – combining frontline communications, task management, resources, insights, and more to #KeepTodayOnTrack. If you want to ensure operational excellence in your fleet, reach out to Zipline today to learn how we can help.

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