As digital retail has grown, most brick-and-mortar chains have either evolved their shopping experiences or struggled -- or both. It's simply no longer enough to have shelves packed with an array of merchandise when consumers can browse vast digital catalogs, order nearly anything they want, and have their purchases delivered in two days.

To compete, traditional chains have had to become destinations -- experiences that provide customers with good reason to leave the house. That has been a particularly challenging task for department stores, and Macy's (NYSE:M) has not been immune to the troubles that have plagued its peers.

In its moves to adapt, the chain has closed stores, added omnichannel shopping capabilities, and refined its in-store shopping experience. And now, it has quietly purchased the small retailer STORY, and placed its founder in a position where she'll be able to help Macy's plot out the next steps in its evolution.

The exterior of a Macy's store

Macy's management seems to understand that retail will continue to change. Image source: Macy's.

Macy's wants to tell you a story

New York City-based STORY uses a novel retail model "that takes the point of view of a magazine, changes like a gallery, and sells things like a store," according to a press release. Every four to eight weeks, the store changes completely, with new merchandise and a new look.

STORY founder and CEO Rachel Shechtman will become Macy's brand experience officer, reporting directly to President Hal Lawton. In her new position, she will be tasked with enhancing Macy's in-store customer experience.

"Rachel is a unique and innovative voice in retail, and we are thrilled to have the STORY team join the Macy's family. Bringing Rachel's perspective to the table will help create more enriched and engaging in-store experiences and brand activations," said CEO Jeff Gennette. "We are committed to growth in 2018, and this is one important step along the way."

Why is this important?

In our constantly changing retail marketplace, it's important for large companies to bring in and empower new voices. Walmart, for example, acquired and put its founder, Marc Lore, in charge of its digital business. It also gave the digital pioneer a strong voice in its overall operations, which has helped the world's largest retailer infuse itself with a bit of start-up thinking. Likewise, with the acquisition of STORY, which will continue to operate as its own brand, Macy's has brought voices to the table that will, one hopes, challenge the status quo. 

It's fair to say that Macy's leadership understands that the shopping experiences it offers in the future -- and perhaps even the near future -- may have to be very different from what its customers experience today. If the company empowers Shechtman and her team to experiment, it will improve its odds of developing the types of new retail models that can lure more customers into brick-and-mortar stores, even in an era of e-commerce.

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