Iain Muir discusses why bricks & mortar are the future of retail
It is without doubt the shape of retail has changed over the last ten years. With the explosion of ecommerce, multi-channel retail experiences, social media and modern payment methods such as Apple Pay and Bitcoin, the physical retail store looked set to be left in the shadows. However, as stated in the recent PWC Total Retail report, over 50% of all retail purchases still take place in bricks and mortar stores. The difference is – modern consumers now want different things from their shopping experiences. There is now a growing demand for visceral, multi-faceted, connected shopping journeys, often referred to as omnichannel experiences. As such, it is vital that retailers react to this new consumer demand and provide individual experiences, which are promoted and replicated across numerous channels.
Changing shopper habits
Across Europe, more than half of all shopping trips are pre-planned, growing to as much as 80% in the UK (source). There is still a group of consumers for whom help, information and reassurances such as correct sizing, are vital before completing a purchase. However, in the majority of cases, the modern shopper arrives at the store already informed on their potential purchase. This means that the he or she has discovered the brand, immersed themselves into its goals and is ready to transact prior to entering the store. The consequent implications on the store and its design are very significant. No longer does the store act as a place of brand discovery – it is now all about brand experience. Indeed, for the modern consumer, time is a sought-after commodity. Providing a smart and efficient transactional journey is vital. Confusing layouts and old tactics to increase dwell time are a relic of the past and only act to frustrate consumers, leading them to quickly terminate their transactions. The next aspect that needs to be considered is the informative journey. Not being able to find the correct item or information loses the second group of consumers – those requiring assistance prior to a purchase. Informative visual merchandising, digital prompts and well-trained staff with the relevant people skills and product know-how, all help to solve the informative journey puzzle. So, a successful modern store has to be designed with clarity in mind, provide something innovative and add value to the shopper in a way that online stores simply cannot.
Appealing to different demographics
An additional challenge is catering for multiple customer types within the same store design. Everyone from the older consumers born before the digital age through to the ‘Millennial’, ‘Gen Z’ and ‘Digital Native’ customers, require unique and tailored shopping experiences. This is often the most challenging aspect when it comes to brick-and-mortar design. However, there are examples of umbrella brands, which successfully transcend multiple age groups. Stores with a huge physical footprint such as John Lewis have the opportunity to segment its physical space and use smart technology solutions to target multiple demographics. Stores with smaller footprints, however, have to work much harder to achieve the same effect. Nonetheless, appealing to multiple demographics remains a necessity for retailers of all shapes and sizes. In-store cross-demographic profiling is an increasingly challenging demand, which will only continue to grow. Store owners need to continue analysing the makeup of their shoppers and thinking outside the box to create unique experiences that are audience-appropriate and memorable.
Adaptable store design
Within our time-poor consumer society, the ability for brands and stores to fit into consumers’ lifestyles is becoming more challenging but also more important than ever. The solution? Adaptability. With broad-ranging demographics all with different expectations, the store has to be designed to suit them all. Replacing static imagery and messaging with digital assets, allows stores to adapt their messages according to different times of the week and even day. Research shows that under 25s are twice as likely to go to stores on Saturday evenings whereas over 45s are six times more likely to shop on Wednesday evenings. By understanding such trends, store owners can use flexible, digital store design to appeal to different audiences, attract prospective shoppers and increase dwell time.
The influence of ecommerce
With mobile and ecommerce retail becoming omnipresent, how can bricks-and-mortar stores keep up? By its very nature, a physical store will not be able to directly compete with an ever-changing online offer. The ‘threat of digital’ should, therefore, be embraced and seen as an asset. Being able to merge the benefits of an online shopping experience whilst including the experiential aspects available only to physical stores, allows for complete, well-rounded experiences. In other words, a store should now be seen as an extension of a website. Designing a space to be as in-depth and as streamlined as an online offer is vital for all retailers, even those with vast, complex product ranges. To streamline the in-store shopping process retailers can utilise specific order points, online click-and-collect stations, mobile tills and one-tap solutions such as iZettle or Vend, eradicating many of the old frustrations such as queuing and poor stock availability. Appreciating your customers’ time and tailoring your offer to make their shopping experiences quick and seamless, encourages them to shop frequently in-store, not just online.
Is the solution digital?
In short – yes. To create a truly omnichannel retail experience that works online and in a physical environment, it has to embrace technology. This doesn’t mean, however, that technology should be used for technology’s sake. Consumers aren’t looking for future-esque stores designed as white boxes, covered in touch-screens and staffed by robots. Technology should be utilised where necessary to mirror the comforts and ease of online retail. Empowering staff with better knowledge of pricing and stock availability also helps drive sales and keep consumers away from competitors. Mobile ‘epos enabled’ staff retailers such as Apple, Nike and Dyson have done this well over the years and more retailers are starting follow suit.
The future of physical retail
In today’s ever-changing society, the physical store has to react. No longer will people allow themselves to work for a brand, brands have to work for them. Consumer expectations for individuality, authenticity and unique shopping experiences are rising – everyone has needs that they want stores to solve. Identifying these and creating informed, flexible store designs which use integrated digital solutions, is the future of physical retail.