We’ve all heard the persistent myth that brick-and-mortar retail is supposed to die. But the fact that we keep revising the date for that demise should cause us to question the likelihood of that claim.
Let’s not stick our heads in the sand and pretend a decline isn’t happening, but at the same time, let’s recognize that the sky is not falling.
Ecommerce brands that were supposed to kill physical retail have begun opening brick-and-mortar locations. About 20 ecommerce brands, from Bonobos to Warby Parker, have done so. Meanwhile Amazon and Google have also entered into the physical space with bookstores and retail locations.
As retail futurist Doug Stephens noted in his book, “Retail Revival,” the days when we think of brick-and-mortar stores as merely inventory holding spaces will soon be gone. Instead, we need to increasingly think of physical stores as branded, experiential media spaces.
Or to borrow a few opening credit lines from “The Six Million Dollar Man,” “We can rebuild him. We have the technology ... Better than he was before ...” While it’s true we will see fewer brick-and-mortar stores in the future, the successful ones will offer more elevated customer experiences with greater emotional connections to consumers. They will be, “... better, stronger, faster.”
Here are five retail trends that will help brick-and-mortar businesses move successfully into the future.
In-Store Goes Digital
The use of digital technology in-store is exploding, and it’s taking what consumers most enjoy about online shopping and applying it to a heightened in-store experience.
Physical shopping baskets are being replaced with virtual ones. Beacon technology is providing product information and recommendations based on your in-store location. Interactive fitting rooms can alter lighting to see that little black dress by night versus day and allow a complete 360-degree playback view of how you look. And if you’re unsure about black, screens can show you how you look in blue, green, etc., all with a simple touch.
Placing interactive signage in store windows after hours is giving a whole new meaning to window shopping. The growth of in-store virtual reality allows you to not only see how a ski jacket might look, but it also allows you to experience how it might feel as you fly down the slopes. Taking the best of what was previously considered online technology and moving it into the physical space changes the game.
The Store As Leisure Space
The earliest department stores weren’t just places to shop. They were attractions. In many ways, our lives revolved around them because they offered a variety of experiences. We moved away from the idea of a store as leisure space or entertainment, but we never found a new public space to replace the department store or mall.
Many retailers, including department stores, are now rethinking the shopping experience. Hackett Men’s Store in the U.K. offers a complimentary gin bar for those who need to quench their thirst while tie shopping. Capitol One Bank has introduced Capital One Cafes to encourage consumers to spend more time interacting with their local bankers.
The examples grow daily. This somewhat throwback approach to brick and mortar reminds us of what originally endeared us to the physical space and those tangible experiences.
We love it when a website seems to know just what we’re looking for. But when we go to the store, we typically forfeit our expectation of personalization.
Brands that overcome this gap will understand how to blend the online personalization experience with the tactile nature of the physical shopping experience. From Bite Beauty Lip Lab to the U.K.’s Topshop, these examples demonstrate the variety of personalization that grants highly customized interactions.
Just as we increasingly expect our online recommendations to be curated just for us, we’re also seeing careful curation happening in retail. In some cases, we’re moving away from giant warehouses to smaller, more curated spaces.
The Apartment By The Line in New York is designed to look and feel as though you’re in someone’s incredibly beautiful apartment, except of course everything you see is for sale. Story in New York selects a new store theme monthly and curates products accordingly. Those who love the concept keep coming back—and keep bringing their friends—to see what’s different with each visit.
Putting Corporate Social Responsibility Front And Center
Millennials expect their favorite brands to be good corporate citizens. According to one study, 81% of Millennials prefer brands that make a genuine commitment to social responsibility. That trend is expected to increase as Gen We comes of age.
Consumers will increasingly seek emotional connections with brands that support the causes they deem important and present demonstrable evidence of a brand’s involvement.
The more vital a store is seen to the overall good of the neighborhood, and the more experiential and participatory it becomes in its quest to make a positive impact, the more loved it becomes.