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How does offline customer experience impact retail in the digital age? In 2011, Rachel Shechtman aspired to bring exciting customer experience back to the physical retail space. Since then, STORY has brought its editorial eye to a host of rotating retail themes, curating a collection of inspired and on-theme items for a truly memorable shopping experience.
At CommerceNext 2019, Shechtman gave us a glimpse into the inception and growth of STORY, from its founding in 2011 to the recent permanent installation at 36 Macy’s stores. Nine years ago, ecommerce was on the rise and digitally-native brands were starting to popup. Stores were still the dominant mode of shopping, but they were being optimized for convenience and not discovery and customer experience. Shechtman saw an absence of and an opportunity for offline experiences—and STORY was born. Combining small business products, storytelling and exclusive collaborations with big-name brands, STORY is the one-stop destination for things you didn’t know you needed in your life. A “rotational retail model” attracted notable partnerships with Benjamin Moore, Smashbox Cosmetics, Keds, Rolex and many others.
After being acquired by Macy’s, STORY opened over 36 freestanding retail locations across the country in 2019 alone, and perhaps most notably, at the iconic Macy’s Herald Square. This in-store customer experience is anything but your ordinary shopping excursion. Merchandise is categorized by narrative rather than price point, creating an environment of discovery. As a platform for collaboration, the rotating narrative themes of STORY creates a wide field of opportunity for partnership with larger retailers and small businesses alike.
These partnerships also create a new revenue stream from advertising, which helps improve the top-line revenue and margins for retailers. The result is a unique, discovery-based retail experience that not only showcases the brands involved, like STORY’s outdoor sporting wonderland with Dick’s Sporting Goods, but also produces entirely new products inspired by the collaboration, like the Spongebob Rolex from STORY’s “Remember When” installation. Working with small business is also “core to their DNA”; each STORY space features an average of seventy small businesses and brands, helping them to grow interest in their products.
Partnering with STORY is more than a chance for a brand to be featured. Shechtman’s new and existing partnerships are aimed at giving brands an experience they can’t find elsewhere, where they can engage with the test-and-learn environment that STORY has cultivated in its spaces and amongst its following. Since the recent launch of 36 STORY stores inside Macys, the brand has hosted over 350 events in their spaces.
The next step for STORY is launching its narrative-driven retail model of events, community and partnership at scale—a unique challenge for a retail experience focused on maintaining a test-and-learn model. Schechtman views her spaces as living labs, and keeping with that experimentation mentality as she expands her locations and team, she hires for roles, not just jobs, building a team of individuals who “see things differently.” Since the acquisition by Macy’s, Shechtman navigated hiring and training 36 STORY managers and 270 “Storytellers”, all onboarded over two short months. Her secret to this growth: creating “integrated roles and incentives,” implementing group interviews and peer-to-peer training. Shechtman calls this inter-team training “know and tell,” scaling a group that is not only trained but capable of continuing to onboard new members.
Applying an editorial lens to retail experiences is catching on fast, thanks to STORY. Notable retailers like Walmart are taking a page from Shechtman’s playbook and incorporating editorial images and curating their products in-store toward a more inspired, discovery-driven customer experience. We are seeing more digital and offline retailers curate their products beyond typical merchandising and categorization, taking on a creative eye to entice new and existing customers to discover more.
Whether in the digital or offline retail sphere, brands are aiming to appeal to shoppers as authorities in trend-setting and cutting-edge products. With STORY blazing the trail for dominant retailers like Macy’s and an increasing trend for storytelling in retail stores, shoppers can expect to see heavy editorial imagery along with eye-catching and discovery-based merchandising pop up more and more in their favorite stores this year. This will help consumers connect with the brands and discover products in a way that is not possible in digital channels.
Stream the full session on the CommerceNext Youtube channel here.