Columnists

Squirrel Spotting: Human Connection and the Retail Experience

ColumnistsMar 01, 2023

Squirrel Spotting: Human Connection and the Retail Experience

A friendly encounter in an airport reminded Peter Smith why the core reasons for visiting physical stores will never change.

2022_Peter Smith NEW.jpg
Peter Smith is an industry consultant, speaker, sales trainer, and author. He can be reached via email at TheRetailSmiths@gmail.com.
Recently, I was returning from a retailer training project in Louisiana and found myself at the Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport with a little time in advance of my flight home.

Quickly assessing my food options before boarding, I chose a take-out restaurant and placed my order. 

As there were no other customers waiting, I engaged the server in conversation as we both waited for the food to be prepared and delivered to the counter. 

Satisfying a long-held curiosity about how hourly workers can afford to work at an airport, when there generally are myriad options elsewhere, I asked the server how she commuted to work. 

She said she drove and parked at the old airport. From there, she and the other hourly workers were shuttled to the newer model. 

She told me parking costs $18 a day. I mentally calculated the gross dollars she’d have to earn to cover the cost of parking for a week and concluded she was likely working two hours a day just to park her car. (I assumed she was making considerably more than Louisiana’s $7.25 minimum wage, but how much could she be making to ring up take-out orders at an airport food counter?) 

We continued our chat until my food was ready. After she handed me the meal and had me sign a credit card slip, she pointed me to an adjoining food counter that had some seating, telling me the women there wouldn’t mind me sitting down.

A few minutes later, I received a tap on my shoulder, and as I turned, I found the server with a bright smile and my pen in her hand. The pen I had left behind after signing the credit card slip. The limited edition Montblanc Beatles pen my wife had bought me for my birthday. 

I was momentarily disoriented realizing I had come so close to losing that pen.  

In the seconds it took me to regain my composure, the young woman turned and went back to her restaurant. I had flashes of returning home and having a conversation with my wife about the pen. 

“Hey babe, remember that pen you bought me …” 

 Related stories will be right here … 

When I got my bearings again, I returned to the counter and gave the woman a token of appreciation. I don’t believe she had any idea how much that pen cost, and she couldn’t have known its significance to me, but she was surprised and grateful for the tip.

As I made my way to the boarding gate, I wondered why she had chosen to seek me out and return the pen. Why hadn’t she done what so many others might have—put it aside in the belief I would either return for it or I wouldn’t.

After I boarded my flight and settled into my seat, I had an overwhelming sense the pen was returned because I had taken the time to engage the woman in conversation. I’d cared enough to ask after her well-being and listened when she spoke to me. 

I  was genuinely interested in her and fully present in the moment. As innocuous as the exchange may have seemed, it was a moment of real human connection. 

The other day, a friend posted in a Facebook group asking why someone might choose to visit a retail store instead of buying online. I immediately thought about that experience in New Orleans, and the dynamic of two strangers engaging in person. 

We get the opportunity to deliver and experience meaningful connections every time a customer walks into a retail store. 

That possibility is there when we’re having good days, bad days, and all the days in between. Those interactions can be friendly or bland, or they can be transformational, leaving an imprint on one or both participants. 

“There are not different versions of retail, just different ways to conduct business with the customer. There is no more ‘us vs. them’ in retail. ” — Peter Smith 

The U.S. Department of Commerce reported that online transactions accounted for about 15 percent of total retail sales in 2022, flat when compared with the previous year.

We used to talk in terms of online sales versus offline sales and respected companies, such as Bain and Forrester, would regularly opine on what percentage of sales would ultimately happen in each channel.

However, as John Lennon once said, “life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” It turns out that the distinction between “bricks” and “clicks” is not so easy to define.

We know the vast majority of customers who purchase in retail stores begin their journey online. 

We’ve experienced a global pandemic that has further blurred the online/offline distinction, as we have seen an acceleration of buying online, and picking up in stores. And we are experiencing emerging and vibrant commerce through the various social media platforms. 

Despite the blistering pace of change, there are two things of which I am certain. 

One, retail stores, online, and social media trade are all one channel and should be viewed and managed accordingly. There are not different versions of retail, just different ways to conduct business with the customer. 

There is no more “us vs. them” in retail. We need to be active in all channels and consistent with our brand message everywhere customers are. 

The second point I feel confident about is, there is no substitute for what the best of physical retail stores have to offer. 

People don’t just visit retail stores to make purchases; they do so for human connection and engagement. 

Belonging to something beyond ourselves, being in the company of other people, being “in a tribe” is at the very core of our evolutionary journey and that, despite the long and winding road, will never change.

The Latest

Brian and Jessie Mann
IndependentsJul 19, 2024
Longtime D.C. Jeweler Brian Mann Dies at 70

Mann, whose family’s jewelry store was located inside the Pentagon, is remembered for being a thoughtful champion of the industry.

Tudor store in Denver
IndependentsJul 19, 2024
The 1916 Company Opens New Tudor Boutique

The 500-square-foot boutique is located in Denver’s Cherry Creek Shopping Center.

Messika’s So Move Max Necklace
CollectionsJul 19, 2024
Piece of the Week: Messika’s ‘So Move Max’ Necklace

Dance all night long with the “So Move Max” set’s necklace.

Untitled design.jpg
Brought to you by
The End of an Era? Lab-Grown Diamonds' Journey Towards Price Stability

As the demand for lab-grown diamond jewelry may still be increasing, the most notable change we are likely to see is price stabilization.

Julien Tornare and Antoine Pin
WatchesJul 18, 2024
TAG Heuer, Hublot Will Have New CEOs

Luxury giant LVMH is reshuffling the leadership in its watches division.

Weekly QuizJul 18, 2024
This Week’s Quiz
Test your jewelry news knowledge by answering these questions.
Take the Quiz
Etsy billboard rendering in NYC
MajorsJul 18, 2024
New Etsy Campaign Prioritizes Creators Amid Backlash

Sellers and shoppers have spoken out against a rise in mass-produced merchandise on the platform meant to highlight handmade goods.

Ariana Grande Modeling in Swarovski Jewelry
MajorsJul 18, 2024
Swarovski Names Ariana Grande as Its New Brand Ambassador

The celebrity will star in Swarovski’s holiday campaign.

1872 x 1052 Gemolite.jpg
Brought to you by
Meet Gemology’s Next Generation Microscope: GIA® Gemolite® NXT Professional Edition

GIA®’s most advanced microscope has new features to optimize greater precision and comfort.

Grizzly emerald
SourcingJul 18, 2024
Grizzly Emerald Auction Garners $32.5 million

The miner said an 835-carat emerald saw “stiff competition” in its July sale.

Tahnee Barbee, Gigi Sui, and Daniela Villacorta
Events & AwardsJul 18, 2024
MJSA Education Foundation Announces 3 Scholarship Winners

The winners were awarded $3,000 each to pursue a professional career in jewelry making and design.

Radhika Merchant’s Wedding Portrait
EditorsJul 17, 2024
6 Lavish Looks from the Ambani Wedding

Feast your eyes on the elaborate jewels worn during the wedding celebration of Anant Ambani and Radhika Merchant.

Smiling Rocks Haute Couture Dream Necklace
Lab-GrownJul 17, 2024
Lab-Grown Diamond ‘Dream’ Necklace Sells for $122K at Charity Auction

The piece, created by Smiling Rocks, was the top lot at the recent Ormeley Dinner.

Diavik Diamond Mine solar power plant
SourcingJul 17, 2024
Rio Tinto’s Diamond Production Down 28% in Q2

The company’s sole remaining diamond operation, Diavik, produced 702,000 carats of diamonds, down from 970,000 a year ago.

Buccellati high jewelry earrings
FinancialsJul 17, 2024
Richemont’s Q1 Jewelry Sales Up 2%

In contrast, the luxury giant’s watch sales fell 14 percent.

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the jewelry design contest.
Events & AwardsJul 16, 2024
2024 AGTA Spectrum Awards Open for Entries

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the jewelry design contest and the deadline for entries has just been extended.

Macy’s Herald Square store
MajorsJul 16, 2024
Macy’s Ends Buyout Talks

The retailer will not be making a deal with Arkhouse Management and Brigade Capital Management, opting to focus on its turnaround plan.

Crime police cars
CrimeJul 16, 2024
Thieves Nab $500K in Jewelry in Calif. Group Smash-and-Grab

The Berkeley robbery follows two other Bay Area robberies involving multiple suspects, one in May and one in June.

Catbird The Met collection
CollectionsJul 16, 2024
Catbird Debuts New Met Collection

It’s the second collaborative offering from the jewelry brand and the New York City art museum.

Craftsman holding Pomellato Arengario necklace
MajorsJul 16, 2024
Pomellato Acquires Valenza Setting Lab

The Kering-owned brand bought VSL to reinforce its manufacturing capabilities.

Ewa Abrams, Kering’s new president for the Americas
MajorsJul 16, 2024
Kering Appoints New President for Americas Region

The luxury conglomerate promoted General Counsel Ewa Abrams to the role, succeeding Laurent Claquin.

Tanzanite ring
MajorsJul 15, 2024
Signet Falls 11 Spots on NRF’s ‘Top 100’ Retailers List

The jewelry giant came in at No. 67 on the list, down from No. 56 last year.

 2025 Gem Awards logo
Events & AwardsJul 15, 2024
Nominations Are Open for the 2025 Gem Awards

Submissions in the categories of Jewelry Design, Media Excellence, and Retail Excellence will be accepted through Aug. 23.

Sunlit’s Sun Goddess Supreme Ring and Pyramid Rutilated Quartz Necklace
Events & AwardsJul 15, 2024
NY Now Expands Emerging Designer Segment for Its Summer Market

Curated at Luxury Lifestyle will build on the former initiative, the Emerging Fine Jewelry Designer Incubator.

Collage of Caitlin Albritton and her jewelry
Events & AwardsJul 15, 2024
Halstead Announces 2024 Grant Winner

Caitlin Albritton won the 19th annual Halstead Grant for emerging jewelry businesses.

Myne London
CollectionsJul 12, 2024
Myne London to Support Malala Fund

The emerald supplier will donate a percentage of sales from its “Star Power” earrings to the nonprofit in support of girls’ education.

The Jewelry Symposium logo
Events & AwardsJul 12, 2024
The Jewelry Symposium Is Looking for Speakers

TJS is seeking jewelry manufacturing and technology experts to speak at its 2025 event.

Sculptural Freeform Earrings
CollectionsJul 12, 2024
Piece of the Week: Marrow Fine’s ‘Sculptural Freeform’ Earrings

The earrings were inspired by the landscape at Joshua Tree and Jean Arp’s abstract sculptures.

×

This site uses cookies to give you the best online experience. By continuing to use & browse this site, we assume you agree to our Privacy Policy