1. Stores & Formats

Sansolo Speaks: Rip Van Winkle Awakens

by Michael Sansolo

A few nights back, my wife and I did something really out of the ordinary. For the first time in more than 15 months, we actually walked into a nearby mall. It sounds boring on paper, but trust me, it wasn’t.

As we walked around the mall we felt like adventurers somehow descending into a time capsule. Instead of rows of empty stores we found the mall in pretty good shape, but with some strange changes. For example, a number of stores moved to new spots in the mall possibly, my wife suggested, to take advantage of better locations at reduced rates.

Some stores had disappeared (a great movie theater is gone) but there were also unexpected additions such as a jump in the number of nail salons. And there were expected changes such as the long awaited arrival of an in-mall 7-Eleven and Amazon 4-star. Sears, of course, is gone.

To be quite honest, I never found much interest in walking this (or any) mall before Covid, yet somehow it was exciting now. Not because I needed to buy anything, but simply because I am fully vaccinated and felt I could do it safely. Heck, we even ate at the food court and that felt special (other than the food, of course).

These strange moments of re-discovery are likely awaiting many of us as we emerge from the strange Covid slumber, like Rip van Winkle famously did in New York’s Hudson Valley. In the famous Washington Irving story, Rip managed to snooze through the American Revolution and other doings for 20 years. In Covid times, nearly everyone slept.

That means there are now a host of new challenges and opportunities facing businesses that in so many ways never existed before.

The opportunities start with capitalizing on the excitement shoppers will have now freed from the lockdown. Hopefully you watched Kevin’s video report of flying to a business conference last week. I doubt he was the only person to get misty eyed at returning to Newark Airport and United Airlines and it’s hard to imagine anyone felt that way in, say, 2019.

That same feeling of joy at returning to normal is going to happen in supermarkets everywhere, so why not grab the moment with merchandising aimed at rekindling excitement for shopping, sampling of products, and the sights and aromas of fresh foods. Remember, those same shoppers have learned a great deal about shopping on-line in the past year, so grab the opportunity to win them back by demonstrating why your store, services or products are exactly what they want.

The big challenge, I think, is to actually grab the moment by building experiences that excite and delight.The temptation may be to simply slip back into the way thing were but that would be a mistake. Normalcy was shattered whether through the anxiety of shopping around unmasked people or seeing (for likely the first time ever) store shelves emptied of critical products. In so many ways, shoppers are like Rip van Winkle staring at a world that suddenly looks so different. In countless ways, summer 2021 isn’t following spring or certainly not 2020 or 2019. It’s a whole new era thanks to the incredibly disrupted year and in turn that means incredible potential for what comes next.

We’ve said this before, but it bears repeating: This is a once in a lifetime moment. Seize it or miss out. Rip van Winkle has awakened.

Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at msansolo@morningnewsbeat.com.

His book, “THE BIG PICTURE: Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available here.

And, his book “Business Rules!” is available from Amazon here.

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