The recent shuttering of traditional stores including Payless and Sears has sparked questions about brick-and-mortar's future. Though some long-standing retailers have met their end, the industry as a whole is evolving to prevent the same fate. For instance, retailers are testing radical ideas like pop-up stores, apps and services to engage customers. From nail bar services at footwear retailer DSW and Casper's "sleep before you buy" initiative to relaxation pods at Lululemon, experiential retail is everywhere. But a nap session or self-pampering aren't the only ways to drive customer visits to the store.
Enhanced service experiences, instant gratification and control of the delivery process are all driving forces of in-store shopping. The convenience and speed of e-commerce today can deter customers from stepping into a store. But retailers have the opportunity through advanced technology to lure shoppers back into brick-and-mortar locations. As experiential retail becomes the new normal, stores need to keep these tactics in mind.
Stay relevant by promoting foot traffic-driving small stores
Mall traffic has traditionally driven visits to department stores. But leaders like Macy's and Nordstrom are finding other ways to promote foot traffic. Smaller, standalone shops give retailers a new way to experiment with technology. They can learn how to use these customer-centric tactics before implementing them broadly. Nordstrom Local, marketed as a convenient drop-in hub for service and style, is doing just that. Services include buy online pickup in-store, onsite alterations and free appointments with personal stylists. It all gives shoppers the heightened experiences they crave.
Similarly, Macy's has opened standalone locations to test experiential services. In these smaller stores, innovative concepts come to life. They blend the physical and digital shopping experiences in the process. An example is an interactive fragrance display. Shoppers take a quiz to determine their preference. They learn about the new scents coming to select stores soon. This innovation benefits both customers and retailer alike. In this case, shoppers get a more personalized experience. It also gives Macy's an opportunity to better assess consumer behavior.
Utilize showrooms for product and service interactions
Target has been testing interactive showroom experiences since 2015. Shoppers know Target as a retailer catering to a myriad of product categories. However, the Target Open House in San Francisco only sells smart home devices. With gadgets on display, the showroom is a place to experiment. It encourages focused product purchases. It also serves as a learning forum, and lets shoppers connect with creators.
Another pioneer in local showrooming is men's fashion retailer Bonobos. Bonobos' Guideshops carry every garment the company offers in each size, color, fit or fabric. But, not enough inventory is stocked to sell in-store. Rather, the local showrooms act as intermediaries between online and physical shopping. Whether or not they've browsed the Bonobos website ahead of time, customers can visit Guideshops to try on clothing. This with the help of a personal guide. The guide places the order in-store at the end of the visit. The purchases are ultimately delivered to the customer's home. Through specialized concept stores like these, retailers complement their e-commerce websites. It lets them create worthwhile experiences that draw customers in store.
Heighten in-store experiences with high-end AR/VR
By 2025, forecasts peg the market value for augmented and virtual reality to reach $1.6 billion. Early adopters of these technologies have helped shoppers view products in context and enhanced their in-store experiences with mobile apps.
Take Macy's for example. The retailer has already integrated mobile checkout and an augmented reality furniture shopping experience into its app. In addition, Macy's launched an in-store virtual reality pilot last fall. Shoppers can use VR headsets to visualize the furniture they want, in a room. Retailers should pursue AR and VR to complement today's mobile tendencies and app use within stores.
Leverage advanced and personalized back-end systems
Back-end systems that track every detail about a customer, their buying journey and their spending habits is yet another way retailers can encourage in-store visits. Armed with insight into past purchases and shopping methods, retailers can create personalized experiences.
Offering omnichannel options, like BOPIS and reserve online try in-store (ROPIS), caters to the convenience-driven consumers who want the best of both worlds. Retailers can take advantage of online inventory visibility, to let customers know about what is available, and where. They can also use their rich data to curate ideal experiences for each shopper. Personalization at its best.
Truly, change is the only constant you can count on. It is certainly true in retail. Continually adapting, learning and improving is the only way to stay relevant. This we can see from major retailers closing their doors. Simply put, failure to adapt leads to business-ending consequences. Retailers need to be nimble to drive change. We are long past the discussions of a retail apocalypse. It's not an apocalypse, it's an evolution. And retailers who don't prioritize omnichannel, innovation and in-store experiences are destined to remain a part of distant history.