The history of retail may be recorded as a chronicle of commerce, but it’s really a book of love.
Products that improve our lives, small experiences that elevate our emotions, people we may know for years — these are all commonalities of retail we tend to take for granted. It’s easy, and typical, to get caught up in the everyday challenges and shortcomings of the industry, but every day a retailer is accomplishing something pretty amazing.
Following are 10 extraordinary stories in retail worth falling in love with — five from long-standing legacy brands, and five from young eye-catchers.
5 Old Loves That Still Shine
- Starbucks’ loyalty flows. Thanks to a fiscal first-quarter boost, enough people are enrolled in the My Starbucks Rewards program to nearly populate Guatemala. The chain reported a 14% increase in reward memberships — 1 million, for a total of 16.3 million. It’s the program’s biggest gain in three years. In addition, Starbucks is testing a digital-only payment program that won’t require membership. With more than half of the nearly 4 billion loyalty memberships in the U.S. inactive, according to loyalty researcher COLLOQUY, My Starbucks proves loyalty can be done, and done well.
- Tiffany & Co.’s diamond trail etches compassion. The storied jewelry chain in January launched an initiative to be more transparent about the origins of its diamonds. Through its Diamond Source Initiative, Tiffany traces and registers each diamond it carries of 0.18 carats or more, and applies a serial number that is etched by laser (invisible to the naked eye) to provide geographic sourcing information. “Blood diamonds” — those that are sold to support violence in Africa, are still being trafficked. Being shunned by a big name like Tiffany should help cut supply.
- Stop & Shop rolls over for its customers. The east coast grocery chain Stop & Shop is delivering a small version of its stores to shoppers through a little vehicle called Robomart. The self-driving car blends new with old (one retail observer describes it as a meeting between Star Wars and the Good Humor truck), rolling up to the shopper’s home with a selection of store items including produce. It’s like a door-to-door salesman guided by click and pick technology. Most important, Robomart addresses our tendencies to make last-minute, unplanned purchases.
- Aldi’s looking for fun in all the right places. The German supermarket chain Aldi proved its resilience when rival Lidl hit U.S. shores, expanding its organics selection, updating stores and improving its selections. And Aldi is proving it’s fun and creative as well as innovative. For Valentine’s Day, it’s promoting chocolate-flavored wine, although the product is apparently available all year long. Aldi also is launching a limited-edition line of cheeses, under its Happy Farms label, themed to the ‘80s. Total Eclipse of the Havarti, anyone?
- Five Below rewarded for respecting its youngers. Led by former Walmart.com CEO Joel Anderson, the specialty chain that caters to pre-teens posted a 25% gain in holiday sales. Further, Five Below projects 2018 same-store sales growth (sales at stores open at least a year) of 3.3% to 3.7%, despite aggressive store expansion — largely in shopping malls. It’s a high-opportunity reminder of the power of young consumers and the riches that come to those brands (including Starbucks) that recognize and respect youthful preferences.
5 New Loves Stealing Our Hearts
- Billie do be a hero, for women. Many of women’s personal care products, such as razors, tend to cost more than the men’s products that do the same thing. This is referred to as the “pink tax,” and it costs women more than $1,300 in additional spending, on average, a year. The direct-to-consumer women’s shave and body brand Billie, now entering its second year, could help eliminate that practice through fair pricing. A recent, $25 million investment led by Goldman Sachs should help ensure that effort.
- TerraCycle puts sustainability in the Loop. Though not a retailer, TerraCycle’s latest endeavor is backed by retail brands, including The Body Shop and Coca-Cola. The company, which processes hard-to-recycle waste, has launched Loop, a shopping service that offers hundreds of products in reusable and refillable packaging. Even single-use items — diapers, pens and razor blades — can be recycled. Other brand partners, all of which have designed packaging for Loop, include Procter & Gamble, Mars Petcare and Unilever. The system will pilot in the spring.
- State gives lessons in caring. For every bag it sells, this maker of backpacks and other carriers gives one backpack filled with school supplies to a child in need. State emerged from a camping trip. Its husband-and-wife founders noticed, while at a nonprofit summer camp they founded for children in underfunded neighborhoods, that many of the kids carried their items in ripped trash bags. Now State hand-delivers free bags to kids, so the child understands the value of giving, and also the brand that’s making it possible.
- Alibaba’s open sesame for the visually impaired. Taobao, the online marketplace operated by the Chinese digital commerce giant Alibaba, is adding a feature to enhance online shopping for the blind and visually impaired. The technology, called Optical Character Recognition, not only reads text written on its web pages, it can also interpret text that appears over images, a capability many screen-reading software systems lack. Alibaba’s “Barrier-Free Lab” has been working on accessibility projects since 2011.
- Brandless rolls over, releases the booties. Created to give price-sensitive consumers lower-priced (and conscientious) alternatives to many household essentials, Brandless is expanding its direct-to-consumer selection to one of the most essential, and costly, of categories: baby. Make that babies, as in the human kind and furry kind. These products, like all the others sold by Brandless, are free of 400 questionable ingredients so parents can sleep well at night.
With stories like these, the most visionary leaders in the retail sector should be able to sleep well at night as well, despite the industry’s many challenges. Sure, retail faces unprecedented change; it always will. But it doesn’t have to be for the worst. Retail’s many leaders will continue to contribute chapters worth falling in love with to its history book.