Shoppers on King Street, Charleston South Carolina.
Shoppers on King Street, Charleston, S.C.

The articles are almost as impossible to miss as the giant “Store Closing” signs plastered on more than 5,000 shops across the globe. Do a quick Google search and you’ll see headlines like “Retailers Are Going Bankrupt at a Record Pace,” “Another Bad Week for Retail,” “2017 Retail Bankruptcies Are Piling Up,” and “There’s No End in Sight.”

We’re just over halfway through 2017 and more than 300 retailers have filed for bankruptcy, up 31 percent from the same time last year. You could point your finger at a recovering economy, make a case against the “distracted consumer” or throw shade at Amazon, but the honest truth is as harsh as the headlines.

It’s not me, it’s you

Struggling retailers only have themselves to blame. If you don’t believe me, take a look at the other side of the story. Amid this “retail apocalypse,” plenty of retailers are thriving. New kids on the block such as Mizzen+Main, Warby Parker and Bonobos are examples of retail rookies who seemingly cannot expand their footprints fast enough.

The “digital vs. traditional” tug-of-war isn’t a war of two evils, it’s a fundamental difference in inherent values. Traditional retailers were literally built from the ground up with the primary focus of selling product at a physical location. Digital retailers figuratively have no walls and focus exclusively on selling experience-driven products, a luxury that traditional retailers didn’t have when they got started. It’s a tale of two strategies and traditional can’t operate on its own anymore. The retail industry is no longer about fulfillment and inventory, it’s about brand immersion and customer experience.

The ‘C’ in experience

A new breed of customer is dictating the current and future playing field for all businesses. They are the “empowered”or “omni” shoppers who demand complete personalization, intimately tailored offers and harmonious interactions every single time their lives intersect with a brand. This kind of experience is no longer only accessible by the incredibly wealthy shopper. This new breed of shoppers favor digitally native brands because they make their lives easier and deliver faster than their traditional counterparts. They’re drawn to services that create convenience and simulate a feeling of exclusivity for the average consumer. It no longer matters if we’re talking digital or brick-and-mortar – it’s all about the experience being offered, not just the products being sold.

At any given time, customers are on a journey with multiple brands across various industries. They tap into different businesses to satisfy different needs because it’s impossible for one solitary brand to fulfill the entirety of consumers’ needs. Through a brand lens, every experience with a customer is viewed as the “customer journey,” but that’s an insular way to look at it. The real customer journey doesn’t start and stop with one brand or one experience with a product — their…