Member Brief: Data that Rings Alarm


Temporarily unlocked. There are no answers here, few forecasts and no real predictions. This is just a reaction to surprising data. Behind closed doors at retailers everywhere, large and small, I suspect that this is the conversation being had.

That outlet mall was 11 minutes away from the home where I spent my elementary school years. A lot has changed in that part of Texas since the early 1990s. Allen, Texas wasn’t the nationally ranked wealth suburb back then. Today, the median household income is $113,719. Unemployment is 4.3% and poverty is negligible. It’s an idyllic place. It’s the idea of the suburb that I wrote about when I explained my concept of Sanitized Urbanization. Few states build suburbs better than Texas. In short, “sanitized urbanization takes the best parts of urban renewal and imports them to upper-middle class and wealthy exurbs.” It was a quote by Noah Smith, a Bloomberg columnist, that spurred this idea along:

“The suburbs” won’t mean exactly what it meant in the 1970s. Then, the term conjured visions of malls, single-family houses separated by broad lawns, and homogeneous White populations. In order to attract today’s urbanites, suburbs will have to offer something a bit different. [Crain’s]

I went on to explain how most metropolitan areas like Dallas are adopting a format that allows for each suburban area to be self-sustaining with its own retail centers, medical facilities, and living spaces. Polycentric development (having more than one center) is a pattern of transport connectivity, urban planning, mixed use development, and progressive city  design. The result of this type of development is a classification of suburban development that has become more commonplace as younger earners continue to flee cities.

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It’s against this backdrop that I view the tragic loss of life in an area that has never experienced this magnitude of violence. New data from the Violence Project suggests that the type of violence that occurred in Allen, Texas is accelerating.


We often think of schools as the primary targets of these acts of needless violence, but while every act is, in itself, awful: retail is now at the center of it.

Until recently, the average American who viewed cable news categorized retail crime as acts of theft and vandalism concentrated in areas like San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York City, Oakland, Miami, and Chicago. In the 2022 National Retail Federation’s Retail Security Survey, the most pressing issues as it related to the “risk and threat priorities” of retail executives were guest-on-associate violence, external theft, organized retail crime and cyber crimes. “Mass violence” was in the fifth position with 28.1% of executives suggesting that it was “somewhat more” concerning and 29.8% of those polled believing that it was much more concerning. This priority list my change in the coming months.

As retail executives, it is crucial to understand the evolving landscape of public safety and its impact on brick and mortar businesses. The recent tragic mass shooting at the Premium Outlet in Allen, Texas has highlighted the vulnerability of retail locations to such acts of violence. While it is a retail problem, the real solution is not in the control of the retail industry itself. The narrative will need to elevate the concerns around the social contagion that is the targeting of innocent civilians in retail locations and nearby restaurants. I found this paragraph from a recent journal article in the National Library of Medicine to be relevant to one explanation of the data mentioned in this report.

Recently a contagion effect, similar to a “copycat” effect, has been suggested in mass shootings. This effect suggests that behaviors can be “contagious” and spread across a population. In the example of mass shootings, a contagion effect would be said to exist if a single mass shooting incident increased the likelihood of other instances of mass shootings in the near future. Contagion has been documented across a variety of other behaviors, including airplane hijackings, smoking cessation, and binge eating, and has been well researched in relation to suicide. There is now evidence that when a mass shooting occurs, there is a temporary increase in the probability of another event within the next 13 days on average.

So I found it valuable to explore the history of retail shootings from 1969 to 2022 as well as any and all implications for brick and mortar businesses in the coming years. This includes the likelihood of increased visibility of armed guards at malls, potential militarization of on-site police officers, and the potential shift towards online retail due to changing attitudes towards safety.

A Historical Perspective: 1969-2022

1969-1990: During this period, mass shootings in retail spaces were relatively uncommon. Although incidents like the 1980 shooting at the Liberty City Shopping Center in Miami, Florida, which claimed two lives, raised concerns, there was limited public awareness about the potential risks associated with retail locations. Consequently, security measures were not significantly heightened during this time.

1990-2000: The 1990s witnessed an increase in retail shootings, bringing the issue to the forefront. The tragic 1992 shooting at the Fort Hood Mall in Killeen, Texas, where 23 lives were lost, was a turning point. This incident sparked discussions about the necessity of enhancing safety protocols in malls. While some malls began implementing security measures such as increased surveillance and limited access points, the overall response remained relatively limited.

2000-2010: Mass shootings in retail locations continued to occur with alarming frequency during this period. Incidents such as the 2007 Trolley Square shooting in Salt Lake City, Utah, and the 2008 Westroads Mall shooting in Omaha, Nebraska, further underscored the urgent need for improved security. These incidents prompted retailers to collaborate more closely with law enforcement agencies to enhance security measures. However, the scale of the problem remained significant.

2010-2022: Mass shootings at retail locations reached a distressing peak during this period. Incidents such as the 2012 Aurora theater shooting in Colorado and the 2019 Walmart shooting in El Paso, Texas, where numerous lives were lost, amplified public concerns about safety in retail spaces. Retailers began taking security more seriously and worked to improve measures to protect their customers and employees. However, the high number of incidents continued to pose challenges.

Here is a breakdown of the alarming data surrounding mass shootings, detailed by year (source: The Violence Project):

YEARK-12CollegeGov BuildingChurchRetailDiningOfficeResidenceOutdoorsWarehousePost Office

Growing up, it was a widely held belief that the most dangerous schools were the ones with metal detectors. These were the schools in rougher parts of town; violence was anticipated and so was the presence of law enforcement. Even today, the best public high schools in the United States avoid this measure. They believe that it would communicate that the assumption of safety was a lost cause. While this is the prevailing behavior in K-12 schools, retail centers may not hold similar beliefs.

Projected Impact and Market Assumptions

Increased visibility of armed guards: In the wake of the rising frequency of retail shootings, it is likely that malls and retail locations will prioritize security measures to ensure the safety of shoppers. Armed guards may become more visible, acting as a deterrent and providing rapid response in case of emergencies. This heightened security presence will aim to instill a sense of safety among shoppers and employees, encouraging them to continue visiting physical stores. The presence of armed guards can also serve as a proactive measure, potentially deterring potential assailants.

Potential militarization of police officers: Given the gravity of the trend line, it is possible that police officers responding to retail shootings will appear more militarized. The aim would be to swiftly neutralize threats and minimize casualties. However, striking a balance between effective response and maintaining a welcoming environment is crucial to prevent unnecessary fear or discomfort for shoppers. Collaboration between law enforcement agencies and retailers will play a vital role in establishing guidelines that prioritize both safety and the customer experience.

Shift towards online retail: The changing attitudes towards safety in retail spaces may inadvertently lead to a shift towards online retail. Consumers, increasingly concerned about their wellbeing, may opt for the convenience and perceived safety of online shopping. This shift poses challenges for traditional brick-and-mortar retailers. To adapt, retailers must invest in developing robust online platforms and implementing effective omnichannel strategies that seamlessly integrate their online and offline presence. This approach allows retailers to cater to changing consumer preferences while providing a consistent brand experience.

Retailers may likely leverage the shift towards online retail by enhancing their digital marketing efforts, improving website user experience, and offering personalized recommendations to engage customers. The Connected Mall concept that I wrote about in 2020 will become commonplace throughout the many, premium suburban malls peppering the United States.

Here is that thesis. Easton Town Center, the premium retailer at the center of the thesis eventually facilitated the operation (same day shipping in a 20 mile radius), though the solution still appears early.

It is important to note that the shift towards online retail is not a complete solution. The risk of violence should not keep customers out of stores. Many consumers still value the tangible experience of visiting physical stores, socializing, and engaging with products firsthand. Therefore, brick and mortar retailers should focus on creating unique in-store experiences that emphasize safety while recognizing that there’s only so much that can be done without governmental intervention.

Looking ahead to 2025, the market assumptions for brick and mortar businesses are multifaceted. On one hand, the demand for enhanced safety measures and visible security presence may lead to increased costs for retailers. Budget allocations for security personnel, technology upgrades, and training programs may rise to ensure the safety and well-being of customers and employees. Retailers should view these investments as vital for building trust, maintaining a secure environment, and mitigating potential risks.

On the other hand, the integration of advanced technologies like artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), and data analytics can help retailers optimize their security strategies. AI-powered surveillance systems can identify potential threats in real-time and trigger immediate alerts, enabling a proactive response. ML algorithms can analyze historical data to identify patterns and predict potential risks, assisting retailers in implementing safety measures. I anticipate these types of preventative measures to become more common.

The history of retail shootings at malls reflects an unfortunate reality of our society. It is crucial to acknowledge the impact of such incidents and proactively address safety concerns to ensure the longevity and success of brick and mortar businesses. By increasing the visibility of armed guards, collaborating with law enforcement agencies, and embracing technology for both online and in-store experiences, retailers can navigate the evolving landscape of safety, build consumer trust, and maintain a competitive edge in the retail industry.

Without viewing retail violence with a proactive lens, the concept of the suburban mall, one of the enduring tentpoles in American capitalism will be unrecognizable. And given that this sort of violence is less tolerable to many (than the same magnitude of violence elsewhere), the irony is not lost on me. Capitalism is at stake and retail is America’s chief employer. Maybe then, something will have to be done about it – in a way that respects personal liberty while also respecting the importance of life.

Retail has been at the center of a political maelstrom for a while now but the Allen, Texas massacre is likely to exacerbate things. Adapting to this, the changing consumer attitudes, fears and preferences will be vital in fostering a secure shopping environment. Ultimately, the answers to these concerns will determine the future of retail in the United States.

By Web Smith | Edited by Hilary Milnes with art by Alex Remy and Christina Williams

Part one of this series: Where NatSec Meets Commerce (China’s Influence)

Editor’s Note: I hate the phrase “thoughts and prayers” because it denotes a powerlessness to affect change. My hope is that the contribution of this perspective helps in some way, shape or form. My sincerest condolences to the families, businesses, and lost lives impacted by this tragic event.

Memo: Redefining The Revenue Model in CPG


It’s been a boom season for consumer packaged goods and perishable foods brands. This growth skewed heavily towards those properly positioned to benefit from omnichannel distribution and it punished many who rely solely on direct-to-consumer and subscription models.

This week – after sitting with executives at one of America’s most prominent grocers, I was left thinking about all of the changes in how we consume the consumer packaged goods that we love. Here is what I concluded after those conversations:

You have a subscription to products that you like, you repeat purchase the products that you love. More often than not, those repeat purchases exceed the volume of the product that you’d consume if you subscribed to a monthly shipment from the same company.

Olipop and Poppi need no subscription box – they have Amazon Prime Now and DoorDash. I would venture to guess that the enthusiastic Olipop fan buys 4-5 cases of four per month ($50) through various channels. Wild Planet needs no subscription box, nor does Primal Kitchen, Bar Harbor, Organic Girl, Brad’s products, Dave’s Killer Bread, Waterloo water, Bare Bones bone broth, Bulletproof, or Force of Nature meats. Prime Now basically advertises these brands at no cost to them. Whether perishables or not, brands are losing volume to those positioned to help consumers with immediacy.

The subscription model in the food industry has been a popular trend, particularly in the past decade, with businesses offering curated boxes of ingredients, snacks, or specialty products to consumers on a regular basis. However, by 2022, the landscape had changed, with subscription box sales diminishing post-pandemic. For a deep dive on that, start here at The Subscription Crash

Winc, Birchbox, and Blue Apron’s shrinking markets tell the story of what happens when a subscription model falls out of favor with consumers. Each company’s current concerns teach a different lesson: Winc’s DTC-only strategy diminished growth, Birchbox’s acquisition partners failed at every turn, and Blue Apron can’t seem to turn a profit. In each case, these subscription companies learned that the novelty of subscription wears off.

As a result of recessionary effects in 2021 and 2022 and the move towards retail media networks, the emphasis has shifted towards making consumer packaged goods, both perishable and non-perishable, available for immediate purchase and consumption through services like Amazon Prime Now, DoorDash, Instacart, and Thrive Market. Three of these platforms have robust retail media networks and those three (Prime Now, DoorDash, Instacart) allow for instantaneous availability of goods.


Grocery delivery is set to become a $1 trillion market by 2027 fueled by this model. What’s not included in this figure is the subscription box model. The subscription model in food has now become a form of down-side protection – which aims to “reduce the frequency and/or magnitude of capital losses, resulting from significant asset market declines” for brands looking to maximize revenue. It’s a model that protects a nonsensical (at this point) dependency on aging digital customer acquisition channels (Meta, et. al.)

As the market for grocery shifts to marketplace, this change impacts the consumer’s purchasing behavior and the CPG retailers. Traditional subscription models may actually slow sales velocity and overall volume for the best brands.

Down-Side Protection and Maximizing Revenue

In the current market landscape, the subscription model serves as a way to offer predictable (but increasingly less-reliable) steady stream of revenue through the commitment of customers to receive products periodically. This model, however, does not maximize revenue potential as it limits the frequency and volume of purchases made by consumers. For product-based brands that are truly indispensable, with high loyalty and affinity, a study of consumer behavior suggests that buyers prefer purchasing these products as needed throughout the days, weeks, or months.

Brands with a loyal customer base have a greater potential for revenue generation by catering to the convenience of purchasing products as and when required, rather than committing to a fixed subscription. This trend is particularly evident among the major grocers who benefit from buyers’ repeat purchases throughout the week, as opposed to stocking up through bulk purchases at stores like Costco or relying on traditional subscription models. By focusing on immediate purchase and consumption, brands can maximize revenue while providing a more tailored and flexible service to their customers.

Dynamic Shelf Space, Cooking Schedules, and Refrigerator Capacity

I have two subscription services that see more trash can time than freezer or refrigerator time. In fact, it’s time to cancel those subscriptions. If I cannot get them through Prime Now, DoorDash, or a like-service, I will just find a substitute. This is likely a shared consumer mindset as more products are available through grocery delivery services.

One of the key advantages of this shift towards immediate purchase and consumption is the increased flexibility it offers to consumers in terms of their shelf space, cooking schedules, and refrigerator capacity. Traditional subscription models often require consumers to plan their meal schedules around the arrival of their subscription boxes, leading to potential food waste and inefficiencies in meal preparation. By purchasing products as needed, consumers can adapt their cooking schedules to their daily routines, dietary requirements, and preferences.

Additionally, this approach allows users to be more dynamic in their shelf space and refrigerator capacity management. Traditional subscription models may result in overcrowded shelves or refrigerators, as consumers must accommodate the bulk delivery of food items. On the other hand, purchasing products as needed allows consumers to optimize their storage space, avoid clutter, and reduce food waste due to spoilage or expiration.

Rewarding CPG Retailers with Significant Brand Equity, Product Loyalty, and Affinity

The shift towards immediate purchase and consumption of CPGs not only benefits consumers but also rewards the retailers who have developed significant brand equity, product loyalty, and overall affinity. These retailers have invested in building strong relationships with their customers, ensuring high-quality products, and providing excellent customer service.

By offering products for immediate purchase, these retailers can capitalize on their brand’s reputation and loyalty to drive sales and increase revenue. This approach further strengthens the relationship between the retailer and the consumer, as it demonstrates the retailer’s understanding of their customers’ preferences and their ability to adapt to the changing market landscape.

The move towards retail media networks, as often discussed here, has also created new opportunities for CPG retailers to target their marketing efforts and engage with their audience more effectively. By leveraging these platforms, retailers can further enhance their brand presence, drive consumer engagement, and foster long-term relationships with their customers.

The decline of the subscription model is a headwind facing many companies that have relied solely on this mechanism as a second-order effect of measuring paid advertising spend (with LTV or lifetime value as the holy grail of marketing efficacy) has paved the way for a more dynamic and flexible approach to purchasing and consuming consumer packaged goods. By focusing on immediate purchase and consumption, brands can maximize their revenue potential while providing a more convenient and adaptable service to their customers.

Out: monthly recurring revenue (MRR)

The value of a customer was viewed through two lenses: lifetime value and as a unit in a larger monthly recurring revenue rate. I would argue a new measure will become accountable.

In: monthly repeat rate (MRR) 

Thanks to data from platforms like Amazon Prime Now, DoorDash, or Instacart, a product retailer can measure a customer based on how often that customer buys the same product throughout the month and how that frequency of purchases lends itself to overall volume.


While subscription models can provide a predictable and steady stream of revenue for brands, they may not always be the most effective method for maximizing sales. The sales performance of brands through subscription models or Amazon Prime Now can vary depending on the specific brand, product, target market, and consumer preferences.

Brands can better understand the product’s performance by constantly assessing repeat sales (MRR) through delivery systems. The data will better assess competitive landscape and promote a better understanding of seasonal sales trends. This shift has enabled brands to capitalize on their strong relationships with customers and leverage retail media networks to further enhance their marketing efforts and brand presence.

The changing landscape of the food industry highlights the need for brands and retailers to adapt their business models to better serve the evolving preferences and needs of their customers. By embracing the shift towards immediate purchase and consumption, brands can not only maximize revenue but also foster stronger relationships with their customers, ensuring sustainability and continued growth in a highly competitive market.

By Web Smith | Edited by Hilary Milnes with art by Alex Remy and Christina Williams

Members Only: Where Shopify Will Be in One Year


Amid all of this change, I took a leap forward to project which initiatives will influence Shopify’s storylines one year from now, in June 2024.

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