Stores and malls need to be more focused on customer acquisition.

Forget Ps and Qs. In a world where mobile is the new mall and stores are being redefined, it’s more about retailers watching their Ps and Cs.

Cowen & Co. analysts took a deep dive into the shifts in customer expectations at retail and concluded that retailers need to refocus the store from a transactional model to a “customer acquisition point.” That calls for retailers to close some stores and repurpose existing locations to embrace a mobile-driven consumer searching for Cowen’s three Cs: convenience, curation and culture. But it also requires accelerating investments in technology and digital —  allowing for better data collection and analysis — to foster a new customer engagement model focused on Cowen’s three Ps: pre-purchase, during the purchase and post-purchase.

In Cowen’s concept of the new retail model, mobile is the new shopping center and the store becomes the maximization of experiences and minimization of shopping “tasks.” That in turn could have the number of malls declining to 880 from about 1,200 currently in existence, or a potential 30 percent drop, the Cowen analysts concluded. “Full-price department store chain sizes (Macy’s Inc. and J.C. Penney Co. Inc.) should be in the range of 570 to 750 as online penetration increases to over 40 percent or higher over time,” they further noted. They concluded that shrinking department store footprints could result in 200 to 300 store locations being shuttered over the next few years.

As for the three Cs, convenience is about making the shopping experience frictionless and minimizing task time in the store so consumers can have more leisure time. Curation is about the assortment, with the focus dependent on whether the store is a monobrand, a house of brands or a broadline-everything store. And culture is about the social experience, which has an impact on how often consumers think about the store, such as before, during and after a purchase. And as retailers embrace “experiential retail,” the analysts expect that companies will need to shift some of their “maintenance” capital expenditure dollars — about $50,000 to $100,000 per store on average — to retrofit stores. That’s because the stores will need to make room for buy-online-pick-up in-store; self-checkout counters; adding refrigeration for grocery curbside pick-up, as well as aisle technology and improved cabinetry and shelf space.

For the three Ps, the Cowen analysts concluded that having touch points with the consumer through all three phases of the purchase process in both digital and physical store formats is a model that should drive customer loyalty. They define engagement as a way to personalize the customer relationship and in turn connect the individual to the store brand’s community. And that engagement also allows for customers to share information and retailers to provide assistance, discovery and advice where necessary.

“We believe retailers should approach customer relationship management with these phases in mind as customers complete research in advance of purchases online; engage with social media, influencers and their personal tribes when making purchasing decisions, and expect retailers to have an integrated and contextualized view of their shopping habits and interactions,” the report said.

The analysts also said the Ps and Cs analysis better reflects the new generation of shoppers known as Generation Z, consumers born between 1995 and 2010. They are set to represent about one-third of the U.S population by 2020. This group looks for feedback from peers before making purchases, while social media “likes” are the new form of loyalty. Further, in-store get-togethers are the new “tribes” or “communities” favored by this demographic group.

And while it might look as if stores will become less important — more mall closures or they become repurposed, along with ongoing store closures in general — that’s not the conclusion of the Cowen analysts. Consumers still prefer shopping in-store, and 40 percent of Millennials surveyed said they prefer major department stores when shopping for apparel, shoes and accessories, according to the Cowen’s research data.

“We believe in the future, ‘the store will do more’ and will also remain a key cornerstone for retail. Traditionally, the store has serviced as only a location for consumers to browse and transact for specific product, with a certain inventory stocked in the back room. Now, we believe the store is much more. The store has to be redefined in a customer-centric, more relevant manner. The store can be a place for consumers to be inspired, to be educated, to be entertained and to socialize. The store can also be a place for retailers to collect data on their customers and their products, and to build and maintain loyal communities of customers,” they concluded.

The shake out at retail is expected to continue over the next few years. Public retailers considered to be best positioned for the upcoming changes include Walmart Inc., Target Corp., Nordstrom Inc. and Kohl’s Corp. for convenience; Ulta Beauty Inc., Lululemon Athletica Inc., E.l.f. Beauty Inc., and Planet Fitness for culture, and Nordstrom, Costco Wholesale Corp., The TJX Cos. Inc. and LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton for curation.

The report said The Gap Inc., Costco and JCP have “solid capabilities” for convenience, while opportunity exists for LVMH and L Brands Inc.. For culture, Canada Goose Holdings Inc. and Michael Kors Holdings Ltd. are deemed to have “solid capabilities,” while Tiffany & Co. and Hudson’s Bay Co. have opportunities in the area. And for curation, “solid opportunities exist for Ross Stores Inc., Target and Walmart, while opportunities exist for Macy’s, L Brands and Gap.

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