Visions of the Future in a Virtual Organization World:
Vision of Retail Department Stores and Shopping Malls
I recall a time in Chicago, back during the 60's, when going to the big mall was a social occasion almost akin to going to church, in the sense that you were expected to be well-dressed in casual clothes. Stores had signs stating "No shorts or sandals allowed" and "We reserve the right to refuse service to anyone." That seems like a 1000 years ago. In any case, back then, physically going to the shopping mall or the big retail department stores was a necessity and the decorum that accompanied it had more to do with the novelty and evolution aspect of it than people actually considering it a social event. There was no such thing as the internet as we know it today and, of course, no World Wide Web. We could not even imagine that such a thing was possible outside of Star Trek.
Fast forwarding to 2011, in spite of the fact that the Web allows us to shop for just about anything that we can think of, including groceries and basic household items, people continue to flock in huge numbers to shopping malls and major freestanding retail department stores. Why is that? Is it out of habit or has it now become more of a social experience for us; an opportunity to go out and mingle without really mingling, just to have a chance to be around others albeit at a distance and in a non-intimate fashion? Or is it because some changes take much longer than others? Or is it because technology is not yet able to replicate either the social experience or the buying process reassurance that takes place with the physical purchase in a retail department store or shopping mall?
Retail Department Stores and Malls Exist, Therefore We Frequent
The facts prove that it's a combination of all of the above and here is what I mean by that: Each of the aforementioned questions I just asked could conceivably apply to just about every single transaction that is made today in huge numbers over the internet - from purchasing a computer, electronic items and accessories, furniture, apparel and accessories, jewelry, books, software, vitamins and prescription drugs, all the way to buying a car, banking and getting a home loan. Therefore, it's obvious that, for a great many of us, we are totally immune to these factors and, with the exception of grocery shopping for perishable items, we are more than happy to do our shopping using the most convenient means available to us.
However, that being said, the most crucial answer is that, for the most part, people continue to flock to these retail department stores and shopping malls primarily because these venues continue to exist and, secondarily, for none other than the social experience.
Time to Come Up with a New Asset Utilization Strategy?
Therefore, the operators of these retail department stores and shopping malls must inevitably come to terms with the following asset utilization strategy question:
At what cost are we providing a service that most people do not really have a need for versus the cost of an alternate service that we could be providing that could significantly increase our bottom line?
A New Vision: Retail Department Stores and Shopping Malls as Entertainment and Social Experience Centers
In that light, here is a snapshot of my vision of Retail Department Stores and Shopping Malls in the new Virtual Organization World:
Vision of Retail Department Stores in a Virtual Organization World
With respect to large retail stores such as Macy's, Bloomingdale's, Neiman-Marcus, etc., they will eventually want to convert their stores to major entertainment venues and Social Experience Centers whereby their customers would come for entertainment, to socialize and do some online purchasing on impulse.
Instead of having a ton of clothing racks on the floor, you would have several areas with special tables equipped with built-in, damage-proof PC tablets connected to the internet. In the center of each area, as at a fashion show, you would have a runway for the store's branded fashion models (e.g., Macy's Models or Saks Fifth Ave Supermodels) to exhibit their latest lines of clothing and accessories during opening hours.
Priceless Publicity Bonanza
Just as each NFL football team has their own cheerleading team, so would each major retail department "store location" have their own team of models (e.g., Macy's Thousand Oaks Models and/or Macy's Thousand Oaks Supermodels) and several local DJs. You could use Macy's Supermodels for major monthly "luxury sale" events, accompanied by all the fanfare that comes with it. To really get both customers and employees all excited and fired up about this conversion, I can even see the launch of an annual Macy's Models or Macy's Supermodels Fashion Contest whereby all the models from all the various stores would compete for a Macy's Supermodel of the Year contest which could even get televised nationally or streamed worldwide via the internet. That would be a priceless publicity bonanza!
A Re-Energized and Hybrid-Virtual Workforce
Instead of Retail Associates, you would have a minimum number of Social Experience Hostesses, Social Experience Associates, Social Media Associates, and Virtual Support Associates working onsite at the store location as well as interfacing with a majority number of their virtual equivalents working online in a 100% virtual environment.
Social Experience Hostesses would assist in providing general information regarding the Social Experience Center, seating selection, ordering beverages and snacks, ordering catering service, store appearance, etc.
Social Experience Associates would assist with event ticketing and reservation information, sales, distribution and supervision of limited inventory for fitting purposes only, supervision and maintenance of fitting rooms, merchandise return, customer support, and other miscellaneous matters.
Social Media Associates would be in charge of digital filming and streaming of special modeling events on the internet and maintaining the local onsite and virtual digital media center.
Virtual Support Associates would deal with all internet-related and virtual customer support.
Benefits for Retail Department Stores in a Virtual Organization World
As a result of combining the entertainment and social experience component with a stronger focus on online sales and support, each store would drastically reduce the amount of square footage it occupies (from a one-half to a two-thirds decrease) and related overhead and yet maintain or sharply increase its amount of sales, thereby generating a substantial and noticeable increase in its bottom line. In a retail world where profit margins are very slim, that can be a "very big" deal.
Reduction in Shortages
Theft and shortages at the local store level would be drastically reduced, if not almost eliminated. Although fraud can never be eliminated, it can be better monitored and drastically reduced in the virtual environment.
A Highly Flexible Workforce
Most Store Managers and Group Sales Managers could work online in a 100% virtual environment at least 2-3 days out of the week or perhaps alternate between working onsite and online on a weekly basis. When working online, they can still be available onsite, at a moment's notice, in case of an emergency since all hiring will be done locally. An entire generation and cadre of Social Experience Associates and Virtual Support Associates could potentially be available around the clock working strictly in a 100% virtual environment.
The local store would be almost immune to any sort of major disaster and other acts of God and nature due to the fact that their labor force can operate almost exclusively in a 100% environment.
Lower Stress Level and Higher Quality of Life
High Employee Stress Level, the #1 employee complaint in a retail environment, would drastically decrease and Quality of Life for all employees would dramatically increase. These managers and associates would all receive training on how to operate in a 100% virtual organization environment, thereby resulting in a greater sophistication level of the company's labor force.
Deepening of Local Connections and Relationships
There would a HUGE WIN-WIN OPPORTUNITY to partner with ALL members of the local community (schools, churches, hospitals, other non-profit organizations, local government, etc.)--including local businesses--in order to produce special benefit events at the store location and thereby deepen existing connections and relationships. Local businesses at these malls would provide the needed services and support that these stores would require so that these stores can focus on what they do best, which is retail sales. And the list of other benefits goes on and on.
Vision of Shopping Malls in a Virtual Organization World
With respect to the large or mega shopping malls, they will begin to rethink the architecture of their malls and begin to convert them, more or less, into mini, family-oriented, entertainment theme parks or a place with a more festive atmosphere. A place where the entire family can go at anytime during the week or weekend. Whether it is a daily or big weekly Friday night fashion show at Macy's, or a special fashion show benefit event at Neiman-Marcus, or live daily shows and contests a la Let's Make a Deal sponsored by existing mall retail stores, around the clock entertainment will be available during opening hours.
These events will be promoted online on the shopping mall's website, various tourism websites, and throughout the local community. So that regardless of who you are, where you are, and where you are from, access to wholesome, family-oriented entertainment AND shopping is only a few blocks or miles away.
Telepresence Centers for Revenue Diversification
Shopping malls will establish telepresence centers that can be promoted and rented out to businesses who would like to hold hybrid-virtual events at their location. For example, let's say that VOMI wants to broadcast a high-definition, live virtual conference to 100 people in Northridge, CA. From our own telepresence location in Encino, CA or any other telepresence or virtual location in the world, VOMI could invite attendees to join us at the telepresence center in the Northridge, CA shopping mall. As well, VOMI could also invite other attendees to join us at several more telepresence centers in conveniently located shopping malls. From VOMI's vantage point, it would have a bird's eye view of the audience at all participating telepresence locations and be able to effectively communicate and interact with all of them.
Continuing with our Northridge shopping mall example, arrangement could be made with the local mall catering company to serve all our event attendees, followed by a fashion show at Macy's, participation in an a la Let's Make a Deal show sponsored by several stores in the mall, dinner and drinks and live entertainment at a local restaurant, and/or a movie screening before retiring for the night in one of the limited group of bungalow suites in the shopping mall.
Virtual Solarium Courtyards
Shopping malls will also contain large virtual solarium courtyards, a sort of sky-lit, indoor-outdoor space with retractable and adjustable roof that allows for various degrees of openness based on weather conditions. These virtual solarium courtyards will contain large plasma 3-D screens and a large stage for entertainment and advertising related purposes in a beautiful garden-like setting. Adorning the entire landscape will be 360 degree "chairs" and "smart tables", as well as sound-proof, egg-shaped enclosures, with FREE built-in access to wired high-speed and Wi-Fi internet access at speeds of around 100 gigabit per second. Small, sound-proof conference rooms with internet access will also be available on a first-come, first-served basis for up to 2 hours and subject to an extension if there is no one waiting in line. The only thing a customer has to do is to bring their own laptop or PC tablet.
Hostesses from all the various food, beverage and entertainment restaurants and stores will be able to know which smart table is occupied and virtually approach you directly from inside their store via text messaging or speaker phone in order to take your "virtual" orders from their PC tablets or smart phone devices. Digital coupons offered by participating store owners will be automatically processed without any sort of awareness, input or intervention by the customer or hostess.
Collaboration and cooperation among all mall businesses will be the norm as well as vital for each other's success and long-term economic health.
Benefits for Shopping Malls in a Virtual Organization World
The end result of this transformation for shopping mall operators will be higher customer traffic and collective store sales which translates into higher common area and per store revenues as well as new sources of revenue.
In conclusion, in terms of what is now possible with respect to today's existing internet and virtual technologies, I believe that this snapshot of my vision of the future for retail department stores and shopping malls is but a small grain of sand on a large beach of what is possible in the near to distant future. The retail stores and shopping malls who are the quickest to begin to implement my vision of their future will no doubt have a significant advantage over their nearest competitors in this vast and almost limitless market.
on The New Virtual Organization World Consortium
About Article: This article is the first in a series of 14 articles on my "Visions of the Future in a Virtual Organization World." The next article in the series will feature my "Vision of Professional Office Buildings in a Virtual Organization World."