The Future of the Store

Expo Panel: The Future of the Store

Charlie Menchaca
Managing Editor
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Speakers at the Path to Purchase Institute's fifth "Community Gathering" discussed ways the store has changed and will continue to change as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Providing the retailer perspective were Jalal Hamad, senior director, in-store experience at The Home Depot, and Art Sebastian, Casey's General Store vice president of digital experience, marketing, loyalty, e-commerce and customer insights and analytics. 

Catalina Snacks President Joel Warady represented the brand side during the session, which was held Oct. 15 as part of the Path to Purchase Digital Expo. The solution provider view came from Nick Fearnley, senior vice president of merchandising technology at Integrated Merchandising Solutions.

Hamad and Sebastian both cited curbside pickup as one retailer-adapted service that will have staying power. "[Home Depot] had to stand up a curbside program from scratch nearly overnight and we fulfilled millions of orders in the last several months," Hamad said. "At least one in four of those online orders now are picked up curbside."

Home Depot also temporarily dropped all of its promotions, including the annual Spring Black Friday program, a decision Hamad said was not made lightly. Casey's likewise had to adjust in the spring by halting fountain drink sales and limiting hot food items due to safety concerns, Sebastian said. 

Customers are not as resistant to change as some would think, according to Wardy. "Their expectations are that no matter what changes they as consumers have to adapt to, the retailers are going to adapt along as well," Warady said.

Some consumers expect retailers to be able to almost read their minds and anticipate all their wants as they enter a store, Fearnley said. He emphasized the importance of using QR codes, discount offers and digital displays since shoppers still need to be rewarded for visiting brick-and-mortar locations.

"We've got less time to engage and influence in more situations – curbside being a great example," Fearnley said.

Although the concept of curbside pickup might not be favorable for impulse purchases, Hamad and Sebastian have not seen that negative impact at their retailers.

Some shoppers picking up curbside orders will still venture inside the store to see what else is available or new, Hamad said. When Home Depot years ago first implemented lockers for pickup orders, the percentage of add-on sales from those orders was high, he said.

"There's a couple opportunities for legacy brands and national brands to take advantage of [curbside pickup], but they need the retailer to get involved," Warady said.

Warady illustrated his point with the example of a dedicated radio channel on which shoppers could hear ads while waiting for their orders. With retailers indicating that shoppers are gravitating toward curbside, trade spend on the brand side is going to be different, he said.

Warady also urged retailers not to take advantage of brands that share insights and data with them by turning around and making a competing private-label product. "If you truly want to have a strong partnership, we can work together and everyone's going to win," Warady said.

Sebastian and Hamad talked about the importance of assessing in-store shopper behavior like they are able to do with their online shoppers. Sebastian cited examining loyalty data from its fuel customers as a way to personalize the experience by possibly offering discounts via push notifications.

"What we've seen early on is the customer who engages us across multi-channel — digital, in-store, at the pump — obviously is the most valuable in terms of their number of visits and spend," Sebastian said.

The next Community Gathering, to be held Nov. 4., will examine Technology Enablers Along the Path. It will feature Neil Ackerman of Johnson & Johnson, Bala Ganesh of UPS, Jehan Hamedi of Vizit and Brendan Witcher of Forrester Research.

For more information about the full Path to Purchase Digital Expo and to register for the event, visit