Why We Build Stores

In the past week, I read two articles that left me thinking about the purpose of physical retail stores: A Fast Company in-depth on “breakout brands” mentions Apple’s original mission was to create stores for the 90% of visitor who wouldn’t buy anything, and a Business Insider piece about b8ta, a start-up, is titled, “The Retail Stores that Don’t Care if You Buy Anything”.

I often talk about creating retail experiences that aren’t just focused on immediate 4-wall transactions and I’ve shared ideas about how retailers can draw traffic among consumers who don’t intend to buy, so the topic isn’t a new one here.

But reading these articles left me wondering how honest we’re being when we say retail stores aren’t for selling. Because aren’t we almost always selling something? 

Maybe it’s a brand we’re positioning, maybe it’s a lifestyle image we’re trying to create, maybe it’s services we’re offering for free or fee. Stores are likely, at a minimum, to attempt to inspire and inform in order plant the seed for a future purchase of the product displayed — whether it’s from the store or via another channel. 

For these reasons and others, I hope we can get clearer about how we talk about the purpose of different stores, their objectives, and how we’ll measure them.