Are retail brick-and-mortars going belly-up, the victim of e-commerce? Exhibit A is the wasteland of bankruptcy filings, the most recent being designer Betsey Johnson stores, with the once-seemingly invincible Best Buy perhaps not far behind.
But, let’s not jump to any conclusions. There’s compelling evidence from the other side of the argument, as well.
Analysts such as Forrester’s Peter Sheldon believe that rather than the demise of the in-store experience, we are entering a brick-and-mortar renaissance, or the birth of the Store 2.0. After all, if the physical store is a goner, then why is there all that buzz over Amazon’s plans to open its first retail outlet in Seattle? And don’t forget: online powerhouses eBay, PayPal and Google Android all opened physical stores last year. Why? Because many now see the ol’ brick-and-mortar in a new way: no longer the end of the marketing cycle, but the beginning –a tangible, personal showcase for a brand or product, stirring emotions and senses the cold, detached internet cannot even begin to touch.
So, what’s in store for stores? Basically, retail brick-and-mortar success will increasingly depend on amping up the in-store experience to stay in the game. Here’s a look at what stores are doing to transform the customer experience and woo buyers from online-only shopping:
- Lively public spaces. Incorporating playgrounds, hair salons and fitness clubs, malls have become destinations, not just a place to purchase toys or a lawnmower. Charging stations and wi-fi are standard accoutrements, as are progressively plusher lounge areas. As just one example, The Northgate Mall in San Raphael, Calif., offers Friday evening concerts, interactive sing and play for kids in their Macy’s wing and even free CPR training – just, please, don’t forget to check out the shoe sales on your way out.
- “Curated” approach to shopping. Rather than stacks of apparel, more retailers are adopting an eclectic mix of clothing, home goods, music, furniture, jewelry and more. National retailers Anthropologie and Urban Outfitters are becoming more and more about selling a lifestyle rather than just products.
- Virtual fitting rooms. With this hi-tech experience, customers get the benefits of a hands-on, in-store environment, plus the convenience of the online channel –whether that’s a video image of clothing fittings or personalized fit and size recommendations via an online fitting process. Brooks Brother’s “Digital Tailor,” at the flagship Madison Avenue store, takes customer measurements with 3D scans.
- Redefining customer service. Following Apple’s lead, retailers such as Sears, Macy’s, Gap and Nordstrom are arming sales associates with smartphones and tablets, allowing them to check inventor or checkout on the spot with mobile POS. Lowe’s just rolled out an Android version of their home improvement app that allows customers to view how-to videos, product ratings, and inspirational galleries.
Of course, that’s just a sampling of what’s happening at the intersection of technology and physical retail space, where the line between digital and non-digital channels is becoming increasingly blurry. As marketers continue to experiment with the omnichannel retail experience, technology continues to push forward, offering an ever-widening array of options for an “endless aisle” to welcome the “always on” shopper. As just one example, “e-tail” allows shoppers to buy stock in stores as well as online, expanding inventory choice beyond the limited space of a brick-and-mortar –and seamlessly integrating the two.
As retailers seek to digitize the in-store experience, an imaginative agile digital marketing strategy allows physical stores to serve as a distribution channel for brand experience as opposed to simply outlets that market products on a shelf. In the end, it is no longer about clicks or bricks, but clicks and bricks in an omnichannel retail push. The happy beneficiary is the shopper, who has ever-greater consumer convenience on the internet as well as an even richer customer experience in their favorite brick-and-mortar store.