In this post I will examine the growth of retail store sales.  Sales at brick-and-mortar retail stores constitute 90% of all retail sales in the United States.  And many major retailers have found that their digital consumer engagement and investments made toward boosting their online presence has actually resulted in increased in-store visits.  In fact, with the economy rebounding, some major retailers who were forced to close stores during the financial crisis are now implementing large-scale growth strategies and seeking hot real estate in key markets.  So, how are the retail stores remaining relevant and competitive in the age of e-commerce and online shopping?

The Way I See It

  • I see major fashion brands continuing to build brand loyalty among customers and encourage return in-store visits among frequent shoppers in an effort to boost sales and word-of-mouth marketing.
  • Shopping remains a social activity, with family and friends using trips to retail stores and/or shopping malls as a social outing, but also tying into social and online media: people will check-in at retail stores on FourSquare, post photos of themselves trying on a new spring outfit at a retail store on Instagram, or Tweet about their latest obsession or shopping trip.
  • I see physical retail stores starting to use new tools to collect digital data on in-store visitors in order to improve the competitive edge retailers have, and they’ll use their access to data to improve customer experience and target marketing.
  • I see retail stores meeting a critical need: they allow customers to try on items for fit and styling options.  Many retailers have seen that while customers may visit their websites or social media pages to explore new apparel or jewelry, they still visit stores in order to be able to make sure the particular item fits well and fits their personal style – and also to score sale or clearance items only available in certain stores.
  • While the fashion industry must continue to embrace social media engagement and a digital presence in order to build brand loyalty and presence among customers, I believe brands will also continue to develop retail growth strategies through marketing and advertising to boost in-store sales and visits.

The Way the Industry Sees It

I sat down with Seth Farbman, Global Chief Marketing Officer at Gap, to discuss brand strategy to maintain a competitive edge and continue retail growth.


Gap is well-known for having a strong brand presence traditionally, with advertising, in-store marketing, and retail offers, as well as online in social media through customer engagement, online promotions, and other tools.  In the spring, we see a lot of bright colors coming into play.  What advertising and marketing tactics compose a strong retail strategy to drive sales both in-store and online?

It all starts with keeping our brand relevant and connected to culture.  I’m very proud of our iconic marketing campaigns, because they’ve been strongly grounded in what Gap stands for— American optimism, democracy and the belief in the power of the individual.  However, a strong retail strategy must go beyond the traditional – it requires constant development of content and telling of stories that builds a lifestyle consistently across the brand.  Customers expect us to have personal, two-way relationships with them, so we’ve hired a team of digital experts and community managers to speak with them, instead of to them.  Our social commerce program is an excellent example of how we deliver relevance that’s constantly fresh and exciting. It has been incredibly successful.

Are there certain in-store only promotions that retailers perceive as a factor in visits?  Do window displays remain important in this age to draw in potential customers, or is brand recognition and brand loyalty still the main factor to attract shoppers?

A brand that a customer feels is relevant to their life is the first step.  But windows and in-store marketing are a very important way we can share new styles and collections with customers.  We are fortunate to have amazing flagship stores in some of the largest cities around the world.  These are living billboards for us.  The store experience is a very effective way to turn casual shoppers into loyal customers.  Promotions are part of the excitement of shopping — everyone loves getting a great product at an excellent price – but simply being able to emotionally display new items in windows is still a great way to connect with people.

Earlier this year, tech investor and entrepreneur Marc Andreessen made the controversial statement that physical retail stores would die altogether due to e-commerce. However, retailers continue to grow and increase stores in hot markets – for instance, Gap began with a single store in 1969 in San Francisco, and it now has more than 3,000 company-operated or franchised stores in operation across 47 countries. How do retail stores continue to remain relevant in the digital age? Or is this just a theory?

There will always be a role for brick-and-mortar stores— especially in an emotional business like ours.  But it is just one piece of the shopping experience – our customers want us to meet them wherever they are – in person, online, on a smartphone, on a tablet.  Customers value physical space in different ways: some value in-person relationships, some enjoy feeling and trying on merchandise before purchase, and some see it as a social event.  We need to change the store experience to reflect that.  Recently, we’ve held exclusive concerts in stores, offered classes on style and design and had special sale events of limited edition collections to loyal customers.  We need to constantly evolve to keep things fresh and exciting.

With the growth in e-commerce and online stores, major retailers with stores and an online presence face increased competition to win customers and increase sales.  Without giving away any of your secrets, in what ways is Gap increasing brand recognition and brand loyalty?

Honestly, we’re just really fundamental and foundational.  We’ve made a commitment to what it truly means to be Gap and apply that filter to everything from marketing to merchandising, design to new hires.  We’ve looked at our founders’ stories, their legacy and our history.  Our global marketing platform “Believers in Bright,” is a nod to our founder’s desire to have a “store with a heart.”  Being the best Gap we can be helps reinforce with our existing customers why they’ve believed in us for so many years and introduces the brand to a whole new generation of customers.  In a business that is always changing, we must remain true to our core, and customers will remain true to Gap.

What is the coolest object in your office right now?

We just moved the entire marketing team to a new floor in our New York global creative center, so my office is a bit of a mess at the moment.  But somewhere in one of those unpacked boxes is a copy of the three-page business plan that Don and Doris Fisher wrote to start Gap Inc. more than 43 years ago.  It is a reminder of what is possible if you believe in yourself.