The ever-changing landscape of retail shopping has been recently affected by market disruptors such as e-commerce, technology, a greater focus on experience, and a global pandemic. This summer the International Council of Shopping Centers, the largest trade association for the retail real estate industry globally, announced it was rebranding. After 64 years, the expert in shopping center development would no longer include “Shopping Center” in its name. Instead, ICSC will now stand for “Innovating Commerce Serving Communities.”  

The organization’s new brand symbolizes “the ever-growing connectedness of commerce and communities,” ICSC’S chief marketing officer Rae Logsdon said in a recent press release. Reading between the lines, retail shopping is changing. Traditional transaction-focused shopping centers can no longer keep up with the fluctuating needs and desires of consumers. To stay relevant, retailers and developers must focus on personal experience and create environments that are connected to the communities they serve through innovation in technology, placemaking, and creating personalized, memorable experiences. 

Learning from a success story: Ace Hardware

Retailers have evolved from a purely transactional experience to one focused on personalization. They have implemented various strategies to connect a customer’s online experience to the in-store experience, both of which can be personalized to meet the needs of the local community they serve.

One such success story can be found in Ace Hardware corporation. Ace Hardware has long been known as the “Helpful Hardware Folks.”  Well before e-commerce and omnichannel retail took its claim in the overall retail sales landscape, Ace Hardware was focused on providing a customer experience that differentiated it from the “big box” hardware stores.  Then and now, the store design focuses on more local flair, with styles, imagery and product offerings that resonate or relate to the local community.  Ace Hardware prides itself on providing helpful customer service and knowledgeable sales staff.  This culture of customer experience and personalization has helped guide Ace Hardware as it worked to integrate its online omnichannel presence with its mission as a company “to help its local retail partners, so that they can be the most helpful place in their communities.”

According to a recent J.D. Power Home Improvement Retailer Satisfaction Study 41% of the customers surveyed either researched or shopped online prior to visiting the store. 

Ace Hardware also stands above others as the “Helpful Place” online.  Its corporate website is packed with how-to information in the “Tips and Advice” section, and it also directs visitors to their local store’s site which is personalized to the community and its particular needs. In a 2019 interview with Forbes, Andy Enright, Ace’s vice president of retail development, shares that, “While we do have significant national scale, our independent owners live in the communities they serve. This local mindset and entrepreneurial spirit, along with a nonstop focus on fulfilling our helpful promise is why Ace continues to be recognized for high-customer satisfaction and has seen nine years in a row of same-store sales growth.” 

The J.D. Power survey also found that shoppers want to get in fast, find what they need fast, and get out fast. A strategically designed, planned, and well laid out store is paramount in achieving this, and is a key focus of Ace Hardware’s store design strategy. 

Top strategies to integrate a personalized retail experience

1. Focus on Convenience & Ease  

As the old saying goes, “time is money.” According to PwC’s Global Consumer Insights Survey, 88% of consumers are willing to pay more for fast, convenient service.   

2. Connect with the Customer 

Creating a personal experience is all about connecting with the customer. Providing helpful customer service from knowledgeable, friendly staff and resources throughout the store and online can help create a personalized connection. Offering customers additional product information throughout the store in the form of QR codes and digital displays is another way to utilize technology to connect the dots.   

3. Respond to the Community you Serve to Foster a Sense of Belonging 

Retailers can no longer focus solely on delivering experience alone. Stores need to function as places that bring people together and forge connections. It is important to understand the local community to ensure the right brand experience is created.  

It was a pleasure to work with Progressive AE on my two remodel projects! In particular, working with Jason Potter, Project Architect, on the design drawings made the process especially easy. Jason’s attention to detail and thoughtful engagement with both myself and the municipal authorities moved things along without a hitch and on schedule. As a result, my two remodels are now complete, and we will keep Progressive AE top-of-mind as we continue to pursue additional locations. In my opinion, Progressive AE’s team is a great addition to the services ACE Hardware provides.

Mike Mott, ACE Hardware Owner

Learn more about Progressive AE’s work with Ace Hardware SAVINGSource® program as their national architectural service provider here