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84 Years of Lessons in Retail Adaptability, and Still Counting

Jul 06, 2020 • Bryan Benavides

Any company that’s been around since before World War II can tell you a thing or two about staying nimble, particularly in times of dramatic shifts in economic realities and consumer behaviors. Here at Abt, that’s certainly the case. We’ve ridden countless waves of social and economic change since opening our doors back in 1936, and every lesson we’ve gleaned is now guiding us through today’s new retail challenges, both in terms of adapting our customer experience to new behaviors and ensuring consistency of messaging across media environments of growing importance. 

Abt operates an independently owned appliance and electronics store right outside of Chicago, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. We are, in fact, the largest single-location retailer in the U.S. Our 450,000-square-foot facility sits on 68 acres and is home to our 100,000 sq ft. showroom, which is anchored by our two-story, Vegas-inspired central atrium. Inside the atrium, visitors can find a collection of high-end shops, like the Abt Time boutique and our own Apple Store, enjoy complimentary fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies every weekend, or catch a water show courtesy of our dancing fountain. Throughout our showroom, more than a dozen other attractions, including a 7,500-gallon saltwater aquarium, make a trip to Abt an experience unlike any other retailer. In our store and on our site, you’ll find over 30,000 product SKUs across more than 500 brands

Abt and our 1,600 employees have been and always will be deeply committed to our brick-and-mortar operations and our unique in-store shopping experience. But we’ve also committed heavily to expanding and sustaining our business through a robust ecommerce business, Abt.com, which launched in 1998 as one of a handful of authorized online retailers for brands such as Whirlpool, Samsung, Apple, Bose and others. It’s this ecommerce capability that continues to enable us to not only survive in tough economic climates like today’s, but to also innovate our position in digital media to better communicate with and serve our customers into the future. 

Adaptability at Our Core

Abt’s success is based on more than just its scale. Adaptability is built into our long-term strategy. That’s what has enabled us to thrive for this long—through the tumultuous 20th century with its wars, depressions, and sweeping, fundamental social and economic changes—and it’s what will enable us to endure through even more widespread changes. 

In our marketing efforts, adaptability is about ensuring consistency of message. That means bringing the same promise of customer service and the same community roots to the ever-evolving mix of channels we use to engage our customers. Keep in mind: Abt predated widespread TV adoption. In the 1930s, we grew our business through radio, print and out-of-home advertising. In the ’50s and ’60s, we embraced the new medium of the age and grew through TV. In the ’90s and 2000s, we moved into ecommerce and took our entire experience online. These days, we’re going even further by finding creative ways to navigate the increasingly closed and fragmented ecosystems of social, digital, TV and connected TV in an effective cross-channel strategy, all while ensuring the message and experience on which our success has been built remains consistent. 

In recent months, Abt has adapted its marketing and operations to reflect the new customer journey. We’ve adjusted messaging and media plans to reach shoppers—many of whom are local and increasingly high-intent—who are now buying electronics and home appliances online and using curbside pickup for fulfillment. 

Executing in Closed Ecosystems

To support this pivot, we’ve integrated our marketing technology with a Closed Ecosystems Platform (CEP) that provides much-needed intelligence on the new customer journey and the flexibility to execute against it in real-time. A big part of that is having the ability to manage campaigns and find our customers across Amazon, Facebook, Pinterest, and others including connected TV, that would otherwise be difficult to connect due to the walled-garden nature of these environments. 

Being able to identify and communicate with our customers consistently across online platforms also helps ensure we can bring the uniqueness of the in-store experience to our digital customers as ecommerce takes on a heightened role. Consistency of message is key to ensuring consistency of an excellent customer experience—whether in store or online. The capabilities afforded us through a CEP enable us to translate the aura of our brand—its promise and incumbent value—to consumers who are engaging and shopping differently than they were even a few months ago. 

Moving seamlessly across media ecosystems while keeping customer experience and service at the forefront is what makes our brand durable in the current era of rapid change. And adaptability in our digital marketing approach gives us a major advantage. It’s why we’ve been here for 84 years—and it’s why we’re confident we’ll be here for at least 84 more.  

Bryan Benavides is the Director of Digital Marketing at Abt