Faculty Rethink the Rural Retail Experience

A store in Willmar, MN.

Over the past decade, the retail landscape has changed dramatically. Consumers can now shop for anything, anytime, anywhere, all from their smartphones. Small town rural retailers are one of the most vulnerable groups in this new environment, which is why faculty from the College of Design’s Retail Merchandising Program are collaborating with University Extension to provide a series of workshops on retail business design for the small retailers in Willmar and Kandiyohi County.

“The explosion of digital technologies was a game changer in the retail industry,” explained Associate Professor Hye-Young Kim. “Consumer buying behavior has dramatically changed as a result. They constantly check peer recommendations on social media and they compare products and prices through their smartphone, even in a store,” she continued.

Consumers are no longer looking for products in physical stores, but for experiences, and stores need to change their tactics to adapt to this demand. “The concept of retail experience design has become a key strategic focus for retailers adapting to this new environment,” said Kim. “By creating a more immersive retail experience, retailers can drive people toward their stores and ensure they leave not just with products but memories,” she continued.

Small town stores provide a cultural space that helps define and promote the identity of a town. A collection of unique and cozy stores can serve as a community hub and deliver the story of the town to tourists and visitors. “Main streets are more than a row of stores. They can determine the livability of the town. So, increasing vitality of main streets is critical,” said Associate Professor Hyunjoo Im.

Determined through discussion with extension specialists and representatives from Willmar and Kandiyohi County, the Retail Business Design Workshops will explore topics like inventory management and target marketing. Workshop attendees will also receive coaching sessions and assistance applying the principles taught in the workshops to their businesses. “We want to bring University expertise to rural small business owners,” explained Im. “Ultimately, I hope the workshops and the coaching sessions will help store owners think more strategically about their businesses and give them the confidence to experiment with new ideas,” she continued.

“Through this project, I want small town retailers to not only learn important aspects of retail business design but also the critical role they play in their community and how important they are to local culture and economic development,” concluded Kim.

The Retail Business Design Workshops will start on February 6, 2019, and run for 10 weeks. Contributors from the Retail Merchandising Program include Associate Professor Hyunjoo Im, Associate Professor Hye-Young Kim, Assistant Director of the Center for Retail Design and Innovation Peggy Lord, Lecturer Jaye Thompson, and Ph.D. student Jacqueline Parr. Read more about the program in the West Central Tribune.

Photo credit: Erica Dischino / West Central Tribune

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