As of late, we’ve seen many articles chronicling the demise of brick-and-mortar stores, painting a dim picture of the future of traditional retail. We don’t believe that the only way forward for stores is a complete paradigm shift such as Amazon Go or mass store closures. Manraj works in our retail practice, while Elizabeth brings a fashion perspective to the conversation. By exploring some of the key attractions that stores offer we can hopefully give some insights into what it is that customers value.
The fashion industry has been particularly attuned to adopting an omnichannel approach. Harvey Nichols have over 60% of online orders collected in store, proving that customers still crave the personal touch, and the styling advice that well-trained store assistants can offer. Montreal based SSENSE, albeit predominantly an ecommerce business, have managed to seamlessly integrate the online experience into the flagship store – customers can reserve stock online, which is then sent directly to private stylists in-store who will add extra products to suit the customers taste.
But it’s not just in fashion that physical stores have proved their importance. Even though supermarkets and many ecommerce giants have rolled out online grocery delivery services, shoppers have not wholly migrated to the online channel. Many businesses believe that the physical experience of fresh food is the key reason behind this trend, as seen by the prominent role it plays in M&S’s new concept store in Hempstead Valley.
In addition to omnichannel in fashion and the thrill of picking up the perfect avocado, we believe there are other reasons that stores will play a role moving forward.
In what’s regarded as a world of increasing social connection, and yet growing social isolation, stores can provide a sense of community for people with common interests. Inside many of Rapha’s stores you’ll find a retail space stocked with the latest in cycling technology, as well as a café serving fine coffee and food and an extensive programme of live racing, rides and events. The alternative – meeting people whilst cycling, is very dangerous.
Seeing the brand in action
With most marketing and advertising strategies now reflecting aspirational lifestyle choices, the modern art of visual merchandising mirrors and enhances this yet the storefront window is only the beginning. By prudent retailers, sales assistants are hired in the image of the brand, providing instant inspiration to shoppers without a confident and solidified self-image. When Elizabeth worked in retail, members of the team would wear slow selling items with instant positive results – store staff can the embody the brand, subtly influencing customers in their decision making, perhaps more so than an arbitrary online purchasing decision.
Conversely, in speciality food retail, e.g. ethnic foods or premium players like Whole Foods, it’s often the customers themselves that demonstrate to one another the value of the brand. Manraj’s crudely phrased view (informed by growing up above his father’s grocery store) is that a customer would be keener on purchasing from an Asian specialty food store upon seeing the store is more popular with Asian consumers. Similarly, the customers in any Whole Foods work to enhance the brand’s proposition to first time customers. How you reach such customers in the first place, is unfortunately beyond the scope of this article.
Ask, Try, Buy
Another reason why consumers still visit physical stores is to touch, try on or test products; this, combined with effective customer service can prove highly successful. A number of technology-led business have tried with varying levels of success, to replicate the fitting room experience. Gap’s augmented reality app has been granting customers the ability to try on clothes from homes for several years. Among the newcomers, eyewear brand Cubitts allows customers to fully-customise their frames through a range of styles, colours and finishes. Likewise, Primrose Hill’s local grocer, Shepherd’s often offer free samples of products providing valuable exposure and business for startup brands. Manraj will not soon forget the free slice of pizza given to him at Sainsbury’s which led to a successful purchase that same evening.
Shopping from your office or sofa is convenient, but sometimes a customer needs something faster than overnight (or even same day) delivery can provide. If you’re in the middle of preparing a dinner and you find that you’re missing an ingredient, you’re not going to go online to order it. One of the largest drivers for in-store shopping is the ability to receive products immediately. The idea that online shopping is more immediate is a misnomer and until ecommerce can teleport shoppers to a fitting room or a checkout, we believe that in-store shopping will continue to exist. The immediate satisfaction of walking out of a store with a new purchase is something that can’t be replicated with a courier delivery.
Hopefully we have provided a counter-narrative to the prevailing viewpoint on the future of stores. But, we’d love to hear your thoughts. Please let us know at email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.