The future of physical stores has been in question long before the coronavirus pandemic drastically changed shopper behavior. Adapting to tech-driven changes allowed brands to stay afloat through 2020, but now in-store merchants need to rethink how they plan to connect with shoppers in the future.
A record 12,200 stores closed in the US in 2020. The increased convenience and safety of online shopping leave shoppers more demanding than ever. Brands need to understand shifts and reinvent the shopping experience to attract customers to brick-and-mortar stores once again. Forward-thinking retailers are finding creative ways to elevate their store experience and bring it digitally with virtual stores.
Retail will continue to shift to the virtual space, but that doesn’t mean in-store experiences won’t remain an important element of the shopping experience. So, what can shoppers expect to see next for in-store shopping?
What to Expect as Brands Reinvent the Shopping Experience
The retail industry has seen more digital transformation in the last year than in the previous decade. Brands maintaining physical locations need to distinguish themselves from online competitors and get their physical presence right if they want to survive.
Brick-and-mortars will undoubtedly sell less than they once did. Still, they can use in-store experiences to strengthen their customer relationships and provide more value to shoppers. By understanding their shoppers and redefining physical spaces, brands can use in-store experiences to complement online selling and bring their brand to life.
Brands like Jonathan Adler gained an edge against their competition by focusing on a retail and eCommerce approach to sales. Jonathan Adler uses HERO to bridge the gap between physical and online showrooms. HERO’s virtual shopping platform allows brands to connect with customers through calls, messages, and videos. This creates a more engaging shopping experience that draws shoppers into their physical locations. Bringing together technologies such as AI, robotics, IoT, VR, and AR allows brands to offer shoppers an interactive shopping environment. Focusing on eCommerce and retail offers shoppers the convenience of virtual shopping combined with the human touch they crave from in-store experiences.
Here’s what forward-thinking brands are doing to shift their strategies and get their physical presence right:
Redefining Physical Spaces
One way brands stand out today is by redefining their physical spaces. Pop-up stores allow retailers to create a fresh and exciting experience for shoppers while saving on operational costs. Brands don’t have to commit to long-term contracts. They also spend less on modular installations. Plus, everything moves faster as they get themselves up and running. The fact that these stores expire also creates a sense of urgency with shoppers. Shoppers fear they’ll miss out on an exclusive experience, so they shop now.
Multi-level boxes anchored by department stores provide another way brands can entice shoppers. These smaller environments sync shoppers with product experts more focused on their needs. Brands of all sizes are also partnering with merchants operating in large spaces to create a concession-styled approach. For example, Everlane and Birdies linked up with Nordstrom, and Apple occupies a space in Target stores. This adds to the experience with more convenience for shoppers.
Brands undoubtedly need to develop innovative strategies that support the customer journey. Touch-free technology is mainstream, and brands will continue to find creative ways to reduce touch frequency. It’s not just about pricing anymore. Safety and efficiency need to be top priorities for brick-and-mortar brands.
Brands like Shiseido use hands-free technology to analyze skin and offer personalized suggestions remotely. Virtual fitting rooms will also be part of the new in-store experience. Some retailers explore the idea of virtual mirrors that connect to social media. The focus for in-store brands needs to be on creating an interactive experience.
Leveraging Big Data
AI-driven big data is going to be another significant asset to brick-and-mortar stores. Not only does big data allow brands to understand their shoppers better, but it also drives efficiency in logistics. Brands need to look for ways to monetize the customer data they collect.
Tech-driven in-store experiences also allow brands to take advantage of the benefits of mass personalization. Recommendation engines already used in eCommerce can now be used in-store through apps that point shoppers towards products they want or need. Beauty product retailer Sephora leverages the power of big data to collect valuable information on customer preferences through browsing history and online reviews on their app. They monetize this information by making it available to sales staff when shoppers visit a store in person.
Create an Experience
Ultimately, brands need to redefine what value means to today’s shoppers and create an immersive, engaging in-store experience. Social shopping is headed towards the center stage in 2021, and digital savvy shoppers want more than a product today. They want an experience that connects them with the brands they invest in.
Brands need to continue to play to the strengths of in-store shopping experiences while focusing on brand awareness and customer relationships over sales. Brick-and-mortar merchants undoubtedly offer the most personalized level of service. For example, Nike’s Times Square flagship store has a basketball court with cameras to record shorts and virtual experience treadmills that mimic famous running routes. The purpose of these hefty investments isn’t to convert massive sales. It is to provide a complete experience that boosts engagement and brand awareness. Working with HERO, Nike understands the importance of connecting retail and eCommerce to deliver an engaging shopping experience.
Reinventing In-Store Shopping Launches Brands into the Future
In-store shopping looks substantially different from what it was in 2020. Still, physical locations will remain an essential element of the shopping experience. Brands maintaining physical locations need to reinvent their strategies to bring valuable in-store experiences to shoppers.
Shoppers still crave human-driven experiences. Brands using offline space to connect with online customers can enhance the in-store shopping experience. Creativity, authenticity, and personalization remain the values that drive brand loyalty—finding the right way to complement virtual shopping with an engaging in-store experience up next for in-store brands.