From high-end boutiques to mass market chains, retailers around the world are re-imagining their bricks-and-mortar stores to build deeper connections with consumers.
With many facing stiff competition from online retailers, the challenge is to create in-store experiences that draw people in, reflect brand values and position stores as destinations that are worth making the effort to visit.
“Retailers are recognizing the importance of shops designed as a brand experience” says Duncan Gilliard, Director, London Retail JLL. “We’re seeing retailers focus on the quality of the in-store experience to make a bigger brand statement rather than the quantity of stores they have.”
A positive shopping experience drives benefits far beyond an in-store purchase by building loyalty and keeping consumers coming back for more – even if their next purchase from the brand is online.
“As well as being a sales hub, physical stores now need to enhance customer experience so sales are boosted even when customers are no long in-store,” Gilliard says.
These five key concepts are helping retailers make that real-life impact:
In-store workshops and classes
Beauty brands have long understood the value of free makeovers to engage potential customers with their products. Now fashion and fitness retailers are going for an even softer sell, with events that engage shoppers with their brand, no purchase necessary.
Upmarket activewear brand Lululemon hosts yoga classes at some of its stores in North America and the UK, while Nike holds cross-training classes ranging from beach aerobics to city rollerskating.
In the U.K., lifestyle retailer The White Company leads free classes in creating an ideal home, while British designer JW Anderson has a London concept store where exhibitions and workshops spotlight a curated line-up of artists.
Cafes and restaurants
Burberry’s London flagship store has its own all-day cafe, Thomas’s – complete with separate entrance – while luxury brand Boutique 1 enlisted buzzy East London restaurateurs to launch its in-house April’s Café, and H&M’s new opening in Barcelona houses a vegetarian eatery.
“Even if customers visit the café or restaurant and don’t purchase anything in the shop itself, intrinsically they still experience the brand,” Gilliard says.
Clothes retailers Zara and Rebecca Minkoff are following supermarkets with self-service checkout tills. The aim is to speed up payment and reduce queuing time for these brands’ heavily millennial-based demographic, who prize self-service.
As for the pioneer of next-generation commerce, at Amazon’s first physical store, there is no check-out at all. Instead, shoppers swipe their Amazon app upon entry, then their smartphones track what item they leave the store with, charging it all back to their Amazon Prime accounts.
Improving fitting rooms
Many consumers hate the fitting room – but high-tech mirrors and lighting could change that.
At an Abercrombie & Fitch concept store, customers can try on clothes in lounge-like fitting rooms where they can control lights and music and charge their phones. Polo Ralph Lauren and eBay have trialed smart mirrors where customers can not only adjust lighting, they can use the mirrors to request additional sizes, delivering valuable data that can help with inventory and customer service.
Technology that encourages shopping
In-store tech is also adding a competitive edge – and efficiency – to retailers’ offline shopping offerings.
Tommy Hilfiger and Topshop have streamed their catwalk shows in virtual reality to in-store headsets. Lowes Home Improvement helps shoppers envision DIY projects – and make a shopping list – by providing a VR space to learn skills and test out home improvement ideas.
Lowes, like UK supermarket chain Tesco, is streamlining costs with robots that help customers and manage inventory, while Marks and Spencers and Dune track customers’ smartphones to help understand paths customers take, in order to improve the store layout and send customized offers.
“It’s all about differentiating a customer’s journey,” Gilliard says. For repeat business, online or off, a successful store makes it feel personal.