The future of retail was once seen as being online but with this space becoming increasingly crowded it seems that bricks and mortar is more relevant than ever.
Driving insight from different areas of the retail spectrum, from technology to lighting, to build, to brand, the Retail Outlet forum tackled this topical discussion with the shared intention to create better experiences moving forward.
16 industry professionals, one shared voice.
Whilst change represents an exciting horizon, the forum focused on the realities for retailers and whether, for instance, it will be easy for them to adapt to the changing landscape and whether you can have online without bricks and mortar or vice versa.
Internet giant Amazon is one of the brand names most synonymous with digital having built its empire in this arena – with the previously held implication that the only way is online. But last November, in what appears to be an increasing sign of the times, Amazon opened its first ever bricks and mortar shop in the US, with more expected to follow.
Amazon is far from alone, with Google also following the pattern of the likes of Apple and eBay. Offering its range of products by having staff on hand to talk customers through various devices and apps has given people the chance to learn and experiment about what Google is offering in a way that cannot be replicated online.
While many of these retail powerhouses now believe that having a physical shop is one of their biggest assets – with its multi-platform approach that offers what they believe is a more rounded and meaningful customer journey – others are sticking to what they know best in order to offer the customer best value.
Primark, an example discussed at the Retail Outlet, want to pass on the best value to the customer and as a result have no current intention of pushing too much the digital side of the business because ultimately it would add an overhead that would be passed on to the customer. As a brand that offers items for great value prices that is not a route they want to go down.
Essentially, they want to continue to be the “people’s brand” by not spending vast sums on their website with pictures and videos of models and actors, but by using content from real customers who use the store.
But while Primark’s modus operandi appears to focus on its high street shops, it still has an online presence where items can be viewed and purchased. Other organisations such as Wiggle – a cycle, run and swim retailer – remain solely online, where they are still able to flourish.
As humans, though, we all crave contact and the meaningful interactions you get from a physical retail environment will always be powerful. Creating a real-life experience and atmosphere as opposed to a virtual forum seems, therefore, to have the edge in terms of the impact it can have on a customer. Online, though, offers convenience and ease in today’s increasingly time-short society and for many is merely an extension of physical shops.
While retail online is essentially based around transaction, in-store is more concerned with the actual experience of the customer, with the aim of reflecting the essence of a particular brand. Flagship shops with engaging store-fronts and point of purchase displays can strongly influence people into buying items more than an online advert is able to, which explains why a higher percentage of people spend more money than they had planned to when in a bricks and mortar shop as opposed to online.
The impact of being able to physically touch a potential purchase and having instant assistance from a member of staff should not be underestimated either. The ability for retail staff to form a bond and rapport with shoppers is something that online will never be able to re-create. Indeed, some retailers, in line with their brand values, offer various social aspects to entice customers, such as providing free tea and coffee and seating spaces, as well as play areas and even cinemas for children.
Embracing customer behaviour is something that is important, as when this is not achieved customers are likely to feel alienated to some extent. So, if customers are using their phones to do various activities then you have to enable and find an opportunity to make it work, which some retailers fail to recognise. Some retailers, for example, fail to offer free wi-fi which can negatively impact on the customer’s experience if they want to go online and perform any of their normal day-to-day functions. After all, it is not possible to access your 4G in every store.
For some shoppers, though, engaging with an app is the last thing they want to do when in a physical shop, with them solely focused on enjoying the freedom of where they are.
In the end, technology can do so many things but the question that remains is: does it sometimes get in the way of its basic task, which is to help sell a product to a customer who wants it?
Clearly, digital still has a major role to play in the future of retail but what is also evident is the undeniable reality that there is no replacement for bricks and mortar shops. We are human, after all.
Would you like to be a part of the next Retail Outlet forum?
If you would like to take part in a future discussion, all you need to do is let me know [email protected] Be great to hear your point of view from your side of the retail spectrum.
N.B Thanks to Retail Focus for the pics at the top of the page.