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Retail trends and innovations that excite Chain Store Age's Marianne Wilson

This seasoned journalist finds a story behind every retail door. See what retail trends and innovations in retail she’s most excited about.

How did you get your start in journalism?

When I was growing up, my mother used to call me “nosy,” though I preferred the word “curious.” I was never shy about asking questions. And I always loved reading newspapers and magazines like Time or Newsweek. I also loved to write. So it was really the perfect storm for me being a journalist. After graduating from Boston University, I worked for several newspapers. Somewhere along the line I discovered B2B publishing. I got my first exposure to retail reporting at Hearst Corp., at a publication called American Druggist. From there, I went to Chain Store Age, where I started out as an assistant editor, and gradually worked my way up. I've been here for some 20 years, but it's gone by in a flash. I think that's mainly because retail never gets old. It's always changing.

Tell us about a particular story that was one of your favorite experiences.

In 1993, I traveled to Lawrence, Kansas, for the opening of a new Wal-Mart. It was the company's first-ever venture into green building…and it was the first time that I was exposed to what would later become a major trend in retail store construction and operations. It was a huge deal for Wal-Mart at the time, and the company was eager and open to talking about it. Their excitement was contagious. I came back all fired up and became the green advocate at Chain Store Age. More recently, my favorite articles have been those in which I highlight emerging retailers that are still way under the radar. I love writing about new retailers.

Chain Store Age has been around a long time—founded in 1925. How do you keep content fresh, especially today when people are consuming news around-the-clock through a variety of mediums?

We use our website, e-newsletters and social media platforms, mainly Twitter—I love to tweet— and Facebook, to keep our content fresh and keep our readers informed. And we do e-newsblasts for breaking news. The challenge for editors is keeping up with all of the information that is available, managing it all, and getting it out to readers. Our print publication is not about news anymore—news is for the Web. The print pub is more about analysis and expert commentary.

What do you think is the biggest trend happening among retail chain stores?

The biggest trend for retailers is the push to offer a true omnichannel experience, one that provides customers with a seamless and consistent shopping experience by connecting all channels—physical, online and mobile—and customer touchpoints. Many retail companies are still not there yet, in part because they are used to working in silos, with departments focused around specific channels. Breaking down these internal silos is the first step to providing a true omnichannel experience.

Are there any retail innovations you are excited about?

I wouldn't know where to start…there are so many. Overall, I’m excited about the way retailers are using technology not for its own sake, but to create unique and memorable in-store experiences that engage customers. I love the way, for example, one brand recently used virtual reality to enhance their store experience, allowing shoppers to experience the Moab Desert and Yosemite National Park. I also like "smart" fitting rooms. The mirrors in the fitting rooms double as large touch screens that, among other things, enable customers to browse the online catalog, request additional items and adjust the lighting to various settings. And because all of the items in the store are RFID tagged, different sizes and colors of the items a customer brings in are automatically brought up on the screen.

When you go shopping, can you ever just shop, or are you always looking for the next great story?

It depends. There are certain stores I visit once a week, and that’s just to shop. But if a new store or new format from that company opened, that’s a story. And when I travel, I always make it a point to check out the local retail in hopes of coming up with a story. I have a friend who won’t travel with me anymore because she says all I want to do is look at retail.

You’ve traveled a lot for your job. What has proven to be the best place in the world to shop?

New York City is still the mecca of shopping, at least for me. It is the most important retail market in terms of exposure and the point of entry for new concepts—even though it has some of the most expensive rents per square foot in the world. My second favorite retail market is London.

Breaking down these internal silos is the first step to providing a true omnichannel experience.
Editor, Chain Store Age