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Retail Reborn Episode 4: Will Covid-19 Kill Experiential Retail? Not So Fast.

Doug Stephens, founder of Retail Prophet, examines how the concept of reimagining the store as media can be applied even during a pandemic, with guests including Neighborhood Goods’ Matt Alexander, Story founder Rachel Shechtman and Ben Kaufman, CEO and co-founder of CAMP.
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LONDON, United Kingdom — "While 2019 became the year of experiential retail, will the pandemic of 2020 mark its downfall? Will a newly minted generation of germaphobic, socially distanced consumers put the kybosh on touchy-feely retail?" asks Doug Stephens who, in episode 4 of BoF's Retail Reborn podcast series, presented by Brookfield Properties, investigates the future of physical retail.

To shed light on the issues that will define what role physical stores and in-person activations play in a reborn retail eco-system, we speak with three retail leaders who share their unique perspectives from the frontlines of the experiential retail movement. Ben Kaufman, the CEO and co-founder of CAMP, a US retail chain of family experience stores which he launched in 2018; Rachel Shechtman, who founded Story, a retail store that revives itself every 4 to 8 weeks with new product and in-store community events; and Matt Alexander, co-founder of Neighborhood Goods, a curated platform connecting consumers and brands, which takes a percentage of sales revenue and charges its “evolving roster” of brands a fee to appear in store.

“The takeaways,” explains Stephens, “were first and foremost that experiential retail is not about building gimmicky, unsustainable side-shows. It’s not about staging profitless pits of novelties or condescending to a new generation of consumers with selfie-walls and VR headsets. It’s not something by any means relegated to physical space. Experiential is adaptable to digital.”

Today, successful experiential retail is defined by its adaptability, believes Stephens. “It's a retail system that’s adaptable to diverse revenue streams and profit structures. [...] A design discipline powered by wellsprings of creative capital. Space can be subleased, products tested, brand awareness built and data gleaned [...] It’s a measurable and effective form of media for the purposes of customer acquisition. That’s experiential retail. And to me, it sounds perfectly sustainable, with or without a pandemic,” he concludes.

Listen out for our final episode, where we posit a comprehensive view of a potential new retail ecosystem with newly resurgent values and a newfound sense of responsibility to act as a global, positive force for change.

To discover how retail's rebirth will impact your business and learn critical, actionable insights into the challenges and opportunities retail's new ecosystem will bring, subscribe to the series to ensure you never miss an episode.

Expert Commentators

Matt Alexander is the founder of Neighborhood Goods, an experiential department store working to reshape the notion of physical retail, with an ever-evolving roster of contemporary brands, stories and events, raising a total of $25.6M in funding over four rounds of funding. Alongside this, Alexander co-founded Unbranded, a not-for-profit pop-up series providing free retail and event space to independent entrepreneurs, artists, chefs and more — now entering its fifth year.

Rachel Shechtman is an entrepreneur and fourth-generation retailer who founded Story, a physical retail marketing experience. The concept offers experiential, narrative-driven takeovers of its retail space, reviving itself every 4 to 8 weeks by changing the store’s design, product offering and merchandising.

Ben Kaufman is the CEO and co-founder of CAMP, a US retail chain of family experience stores, which he launched in 2018. With an outpost in New York’s Hudson Yards complex and Connecticut’s the SoNo Collection, with further locations in Brooklyn and Dallas, CAMP combines play, product and media throughout its stores to create an enriching and fulfilling retail experience for both children and adults. Prior to founding CAMP, Kaufman led the commerce strategy at online media platform Buzzfeed, going on to serve as chief marketing officer.

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