Jet.com has a knack for shaking things up. The upstart e-commerce company, which was launched by a group headed by Marc Lore in July 2015 and a little over a year later sold to Walmart for $3.3 billion, is making its first foray into brick-and-mortar retailing, and, true to form, it is doing so in a way that calls into question many of the assumptions that have long guided mass market retailers, including its corporate parent.
Developed in partnership with Story, a retail enterprise committed to reinventing itself every four to eight weeks, the Jet.com store is more than a place to buy products; it is a venue to learn and have a stimulating experience. Located at 10th Avenue and 19th Street in Manhattan, the 2,000-square-foot temporary store that operates under the rubric Fresh Story draws on a diversity of resources to highlight Jet.com’s ability to deliver, among many other things, fresh produce and other perishable groceries to a customer’s front door. That capability is of critical importance to Walmart, the nation’s largest purveyor of food and beverages, as it seeks to counter Amazon.com’s ambitions in the category.
Jet.com’s Fresh Story delivers the message with a minimum of actual groceries and a wealth of information, as well as innovative products related to the preparation and enjoyment of food. In keeping with Story founder Rachel Shectman’s approach to retailing, the store provides an immersive environment comprised of such elements as a mural featuring recipes from chefs involved in the project juxtaposed with an installation of living moss and wallpaper that emits the smell of cherries. The Fresh Story experience is augmented by a series of in-store events featuring experts who had a hand in the concept, including chef Mario Batali and makeup artist Bobbi Brown.
Taken together, Fresh Story represents a robust vehicle that enables Jet.com to deepen its engagement with existing customers and begin forging connections with new ones. The concept is in sync with the online retailer’s stated purpose of building a better shopping experience by focusing on qualities that make it unique and bringing people together. To some degree, stores have always helped foster a sense of community among the consumers who shop in them. That role needs to be nurtured and expanded in a marketplace where e-commerce companies can match and, in many cases, outperform brick-and-mortar retailers in such areas as price, selection and convenience.
Jet.com isn’t the only merchant to understand that dynamic. Target has also worked with Story — whose previous store concepts include Love, Color, Making Things and Made in America — and other major retail chains are intensely focused on delivering an in-store experience that consumers recognize as superior to that offered by competitors, both online and off.
Fresh Story is a special case, and companies that operate hundreds or thousands of outlets can’t be expected to create and implement a new store concept on a monthly or quarterly basis. However, they can — and must — engage in the constant reevaluation and renewal of their offerings in order to give consumers a compelling reason to make a trip to the store. CVS Pharmacy is a case in point. The enhancements unveiled by the drug chain last month, including a revamped store design, new health services and an expanded assortment of products that support health and well-being, isn’t an end point but a step in an ongoing journey.
Like Lore and Shectman, CVS Pharmacy president Helena Foulkes and her colleagues understand that, going forward, brick-and-mortar retailers will have to do much more than simply sell merchandise.