Meaning is the Magnet


My undergrad degree is in Anthropology and for a short time in my life I worked as an archaeologist. Not an Indiana Jones type, but an archaeologist nonetheless.

I guess you could say I still dabble in discovery.

Right now I’m reading a 1200-page book on the history of the British Isles, prehistory to present. This morning I was struck by the author’s description of a relatively recent archaeological find—a storehouse of more than 75,000 broken stone axeheads piled adjacent to an ancient foundation. Most details regarding the find are hypothetical, but the author posits it was a merchant’s stash, not a military arsenal.

Historians assume that when water filled the space between what’s now England and France, somewhere between 6,000-10,000 years ago, the speed by which people made the crossing increased. Vessels sped along the water top quicker than people could move the distance afoot. Which possibly led to leaps and bounds in the world of prehistoric commerce.

Sort of like when FEDEX started offering same day service. Goods spreading wider and quicker.

I’m fascinated by the history of commerce. Mostly because it’s always been a catalyst for bringing people together. The phenomena of wanting what isn’t readily accessible seems to have always been a thing.

Retail is the oldest and most unique industry on the planet. Folks’ need for goods and services is ageless. Of course, part of its staying-power comes from being able to deliver a specific item.

But I believe that memorable retail allows the customer to deeply participate in the experience.

It’s the difference between buying something and shopping for it. You buy stuff on the internet. But you shop for something at a store.

Big online retailers (like Amazon) want to make buying as seamless and uninterrupted as possible. They want the product to fall into your hands automatically. They consciously strip away the experience so that you basically do nothing while still acquiring your goods.

After a recent Hp printer purchase, I was offered an ink-refill option that essentially monitors (via the internet) my ink levels and ensures I am never out. For five bucks a month I can stop thinking about something. Other examples of such automatic services are Trunk Club, Steepster, and Just the Right Book—each service designed to remove barriers, time, and decision-making.

But no matter how hard these companies try to make their offerings super-convenient, it’s impossible for them to create a sense of belonging. A sense of meaning. And make no mistake, humans crave this meaning.

Creating meaning is the biggest opportunity for brick and mortar.

When the dust settles, the stores left standing will be those that managed to deliver emotional significance alongside specific products that speak to their distinct philosophies. As if the store was saying, “Here’s who we are, and here’s what we believe in…take it or leave it.”

Not sure if you are you on the right track? Ask yourself these questions:
1. Does your inventory tell the shopper something about you and your beliefs? (it should)
2. Does having a half-dozen (or more) options for one product reinforce your belief system? (probably not)
3. Is your store experiential? Does the staff and the layout tell your constantly evolving story? (tough to gauge, but easy to stress the importance)

Innovative retailers make sure the shopping experience stimulates the senses. A lifestyle is conveyed. A culture is obvious. The aesthetic pulls it all together. This is what will make tomorrow’s brick and mortar memorable.

I’m as much aware as the next person that the customer’s expectations have changed—their patience is short and they expect higher levels of service. Their desire for meaning, however, remains the same.

Make your store reflect your beliefs. As such, it’ll attract people who view the world through a similar lens. The meaning is the magnet.

Business owners need to rethink everything. From why they do what they do to where they see themselves going. They need to reframe the overall experience. Make it into something well-defined and distinct. Then own the heck out of it.

Stores still here in a few years will have maximized the shopping experience for the modern customer. And hint, this doesn’t mean they complicated things.

My guess: simplification is the ideal starting point.


IMG_0795Tom Griffen is a highly sought after presenter and educator whose message and impact transcends industries. He’ll help you (and your team) alter your personal narrative in a way that adds joy, satisfaction, and overall success to your life. Contact him to make the change you’re ready to make.

Coming soonPurposeful Vulnerability, Tom’s book on altering the narrative you’ve been telling yourself for years.

Also…More to come on Tom’s 2018 storytelling walk across the USA!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s