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Why Customers Will Return to Brick-And-Mortar

It’s no secret that the retail industry underwent considerable changes in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Stores closed and shoppers turned to curbside pickup and online retail as a way to safely and comfortably purchase goods. Avoiding physical spaces with large crowds has kept us safe, but it has also fired up a yearning to return to the way things used to be.

We sat down with Melissa Gonzalez, CEO of The Lionesque Group and Principal at MG2 to discuss the value of brick-and-mortar and why shoppers will be rushing back to the stores as soon as it’s safe to do so.


Brookfield Properties: This pandemic has shaken up the retail industry and the way shoppers consume goods. Why do you think people will return to physical shopping when the pandemic is over?

Gonzalez: Physical retail offers so many things that online can’t – and shoppers have missed out on these key elements over the past year. Shopping in-store offers the ability to create meaningful relationships between shopper and retailer. The element of ‘try before you buy’ helps customers find the perfect fit and eliminates the frustrating need to return. And in-store shopping offers spaces to experience and discover something new about yourself and the world around you.

Brookfield Properties: You mentioned that in-store shopping can help meaningful relationships between shopper and retailer. Which retailers are doing a good job of fostering these relationships?

One retailer that really stepped up during the COVID-19 pandemic is Dick’s Sporting Goods. Because many indoor activities were prohibited during the pandemic, there’s been a surge in outdoor activities. Dick’s Sporting Goods is dedicated to becoming the worldwide leader in golf swing analysis, and they give golfers (both beginner and professional) the opportunity to get their golf swing analyzed in a live, in-store simulator. This unique, high-end experience measures golfers’ foot pressure and stance width, which in turn helps them buy equipment to improve their performance. What Dick’s has done is genius – they’re not just a retailer. They’ve become your golf partner.

Brookfield Properties:  When the world gets back to physical retail, will customers feel comfortable using fitting rooms? Is ‘try before you buy’ here to stay?

Yes! There is power in knowing that you can go to a store and find that perfect fit – a challenge that it still being perfected in online retail. When The Lionesque Group opened M.Gemi’s first pop-up (which stayed open for two years versus the initially planned two months), customers gained confidence in shopping a brand they otherwise coveted online as they could touch and feel the product in order to find their perfect fit. M.Gemi sold more heels, they saw the average cart size grow 50% larger than with customers that only shopped them online, and they saw those customers purchase again 1.5x weeks faster. 

It’s important to keep in mind that time is money. And wasting time by ordering online only to discover that it doesn’t fit and needs to be returned can be completely avoided by in-store shopping.

Brookfield Properties: The Lionesque Group specializes in creating brick-and-mortar experiences across the United States. Do you think these ‘experiences’ can be successfully recreated online?

While community events have found their way into online forums, digital variations still don’t fully compensate for the impact of in-person gratification and joy. As a parent, when you take your child to CAMP for example, little compares to the emotions one experiences when hearing their child’s belly laughter brought on by Jimmy Fallon reading them a story. As a cycling enthusiast, the camaraderie of cheering on your favorite cycling team at Rapha is unmatched. At DVF’s flagship, it feels like a rite of passage to have the opportunity to meet Diane Von Furstenberg in real life and experience the wisdom that her mere presence embodies.

It’s the intangible and deeply sensorial moments that happen in a physical setting that create not just happiness, but true customer fandom

Brookfield Properties: Why is it important for customers to have these ‘experiences’? Is offering the right merchandise not enough?  

Gonzalez: Retail conversions may be transactional moments, but the act of shopping is a therapeutic experience, one in which customers can escape into the story and lifestyle of a brand, and one where they often find themselves elated with each point of unexpected discovery. Enter: retail therapy/play. Take, for example, the luxury brand Tiffany & Co. and their pursuit to foster relationships with a wider demographic. Last year they launched what they dubbed “Style Studios,” a place where customers could escape into the Covent Garden, a space of interactive play. Everyday objects such as plant pots, pens, and straws were displayed in the signature “Tiffany blue” surrounding a personalization bar offering self-styling and a Tiffany fragrance vending machine. These are moments of escape into the soul of a brand, something that could only truly transpire during an in-person retail experience.

Brookfield Properties: Which retailers have done a good job of utilizing their storefront as a billboard?

Nike will always be a leader to me when it comes to leveraging their stores, especially with their localized approach at their community stores. In home, I think what Restoration Hardware has built is truly a destination and organic marketing tool, consistently putting the brand on the map in NYC. You can take in the city views in their vineyard like rooftop garden, have a glass of wine, sit with an expert for design services or simply browse in awe. There is also real value in what a "marketplace" store environment like Showfields delivers, a truly experiential environment to discover new brands, capsule collection launches, all from an interactive story driven point of view. 


Melissa Gonzalez
CEO of The Lionesque Group and Principal & Shareholder at MG2

Continually pushing the boundaries of experiential retail, Melissa Gonzalez is an award-winning innovator, seasoned visionary, and brand storyteller. She is the CEO of The Lionesque Group, an MG2 company, pioneering the integration of physical environments and cutting-edge technologies to help companies such as Purple, Nordstrom, and Burrow foster foundational consumer engagement and evolve their offerings. In 2017 she led the invention of IRL, in real life, with the Brookfield Properties team as an early mover in creating turnkey retail platforms connecting real estate developers and leasing teams with some of the fastest-growing direct-to-consumer brands in the industry.

A passionate mentor and strategist, Melissa works hand-in-hand with clients to understand their greatest aspirations. She leads creative teams to deliver authentic solutions from concept to completion, helping clients achieve their ultimate vision. In 2020, her work with Burrow House was honored by Fast Company’s Innovation by Design for Retail Environments. In 2019 she was honored with ‘Women In Design’ award of the year by Contract Magazine and was recognized as one of LinkedIn and design:retail’s “Top 10 Retail Design Influencers of the Year”. When she’s not recording podcasts or dreaming-up innovative pop-up spaces, Melissa can be found seeking inspiration in unexpected places, like skydiving 10,000 feet above ground.

Stay tuned for more from our Voice of the Retail Revolution series where you'll gain insights into the industry from other retail insiders.