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The Death and Life of Great American Retailers

To attract shoppers to physical stores, you need something other than a front door, smiling sales clerks, good customer service and a speedy checkout counter. In the Best Buy investor presentation I reference in the above-linked article from Monday (see Page 1, Paragraph 2), that's the type of thing the company's CEO Hubert Joly focuses on.

That's why he's not fit to lead the retailer.

His message and, to be fair, the message of most executives "leading" retail these days is inherently flawed: We need to the do the things that have helped us to fail better.

No. You need to create experiences that do not exist or re-imagine existing experiences the way Steve Jobs transformed the Sony Walkman.

Outside of the Apples and Lululemons (LULU) of the world, a small number of retailers provide atmospheres that draw shoppers - people with increasingly hectic lives and an increasing number of more convenient choices - in to their stores.

The urban environment maintains timeless elements of an experience that drives retail traffic. Shopping streets in cities - generally in urban or not-quite-suburban locales - still draws an enthusiastic crowd. These spaces provide atmospheres that make people want to live in the city and prompt suburbanites to vacation in them.

You don't see people dropping $400 a night on a hotel room next to most strip malls or suburban shopping centers. But, quite often, the sport of shopping is the reason for an urban vacation.

Retailers need to step away from Joly's mindset. It's a losing proposition any way you slice it. We'll do great customer service, make sure our lines move fast and improve our digital platforms and then, bam, things will turn around.

That's a one-way ticket to bankruptcy and a tomb beside Circuit City in the mausoleum next to the one that houses Nortel Networks with space set aside for Research in Motion (RIMM).

It's not only about doing what somebody else perfected better. Or catching up in areas you missed. Of course, that's part of the equation, but it's not the equation. If only it were that simple.

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