The way we work has changed dramatically in recent years, as consumers find themselves favoring a more flexible and collaborative work style. Co-working has gone from being a novelty to the new normal, with more than 4,000 coworking spaces across the country used by close to 1.2 million Americans in 2017.
This evolution in how we choose to work has also influenced the way we shop. In fact, we’re seeing the lines between coworking and retail start to blur — and that has positive implications for brick-and-mortar stores.
WeWork And Retail Unite
Last summer, shared workspace startup WeWork took the first step toward introducing a retail component into its locations. Known as WeMRKT, the concept involves using WeWork coworking spaces to sell products like snacks, office goods and clothing made by WeWork members.
The advantages of this strategy are clear: Not only does WeMRKT provide WeWork customers with retail space for their products, but also it allows them to test the popularity of goods while marketing to their target audience. But WeWork isn’t stopping there. It also recently introduced Made by We, a new coworking concept that offers on-demand work and event spaces for mission-driven projects and small businesses in New York. Here, too, the idea is to take full advantage of existing city spaces that create social and collaborative opportunities to work.
This movement goes both ways. While coworking spaces launch retail components, retailers are finding ways to leverage the appeal of coworking. Traditional brick-and-mortar locations are turning their storefronts into workspaces that provide many of the same benefits as coworking locales.
Consider Capital One’s banking cafés, which create “a welcome place where you can relax while you bank and connect with people and new tools,” or Lululemon’s co-working space called HUB seventeen, where consumers are invited to “share, discover, collaborate, and connect through a series of unique experiences.”
From Hobo hotel in Stockholm to Vienna’s Hotel Schani Wien, more and more high-end hotels are also augmenting the value of their existing lobby spaces by offering coworking amenities. For younger consumers, this affords them autonomy over their work style while enabling them to benefit from their flexible hours. They can choose a space that’s both convenient and tailored to their needs.
Take A Cue From Coworking
What do these developments reveal about where we want to spend our time and the future of brick-and-mortar? It confirms what retailers have suspected for years: Today’s consumers crave real-world experiences.
Whenever I make my way to GroundTruth’s New York Headquarters in One World Trade Center, I marvel over the shopping experience consumers can find as I walk through the Oculus. The Oculus connects the PATH train to the MTA subway, but it’s also home to dozens of specially curated retail stores, coffee stands and lunch spots. It doesn’t feel like a shopping mall or a train station, yet somehow it’s both. This is the kind of convenient and satisfying experience modern-day consumers need.
What WeWork and others have realized is that modifying a business to better reflect customer behavior makes perfect sense. Retail is expensive, which is why we see so many brands start with e-commerce before venturing into the brick-and-mortar world. It stands to reason that these companies are interested in aligning with a brand that has a similar audience, rather than branching out on their own. As WeWork moves into retail, traditional retailers will continue to identify audiences with low barriers of entry and move into coworking spaces.
How can you start capitalizing on this business trend for your retail brand?
• Add long-term experiences in your store. If your space doubles as a community center, offering classes to local patrons, you’ll attract and retain more customers. At Lululemon’s HUB seventeen, patrons can shop, work or take a yoga class — all without leaving the brand’s flagship Flatiron District store.
• Partner with like-minded brands to drive visits. Partnering with like-minded brands that specialize in coworking can help you reach your target audience. A co-working space called The Wing, also in Manhattan, features food from restaurants that include Dimes Deli, Pressed Juicery and tea shop Bellocq, among others. The arrangement benefits The Wing, its customers and the brands.
• Make it personal. According to our recent study, when customer service is exceptional, 81% of consumers are likely to “shop at that store again.” Remember that customer service encompasses everything from the greeter at the front of the store to the ease with which customers can return a purchase. Creating a human connection is key.
As working, living and retail spaces continue to evolve to fit societal changes and consumer preferences, brick-and-mortar retailers should take a cue from WeWork and establish retail moments that fit seamlessly into existing spaces. Reconsider your retail strategy in the context of this trend. You’re likely to discover a valuable opportunity to maximize your sales.