In a world seemingly-obsessed with instant purchases and extreme convenience, it’s becoming increasingly difficult for bricks-and-mortar stores to keep up with eCommerce giants like Amazon and ASOS.
With store-closures at an all-time high, and some of even the biggest and most beloved retail names dropping like flies (Toys “R” Us, New Look, Maplin, and Claire’s Accessories to name a few), it seems that the battle is most definitely underway for merchants.
But, who says it has to be the battle of ‘eCommerce vs. high street’? Regardless of how convenient and accessible online shopping is, we can’t underestimate a customer’s inherent desire to engage with other human beings, and to physically interact with products – to try on clothes, taste samples, or smell fragrances before buying. Which is why bricks-and-mortar stores have, in fact, got a unique advantage when it comes to contending with the likes of Amazon.
Creating meaningful and memorable experiences for your customers in-store is key to omnichannel success – but, if it sounds so easy, how come so many businesses are failing?
Let’s take Toys ”R” Us, for example. Once a place that rivalled Disneyland – Toys ”R” Us was arguably one of the best toy shops in the land. I’m sure if asked, you yourself would be able to recall a few fond memories of visiting the store – the excitement of picking out a brand new toy, the seemingly endless aisles of teddies, lego kits, model trains, and kiddy vehicles. But, where did it all go wrong? We think the answer lies with connection.
You see, these large stores simply stopped trying, and their ability to connect with their customers diminished because of it. If we take a look back in time, we’d remember how Toys ”R” Us triumphed over its competitors, with live product demonstrations, gaming events, story time, and so many more customer-focused activities that gave visitors a real reason to visit. Now, in a time where more customers than ever want to feel connected in their real-world shopping experience, undervaluing the importance of these things has cost them, and many other merchants, their brick-and-mortar stores, and in some cases, has cost them their business altogether. Even Toys “R” Us’ last-ditch attempt to engage their customers, their Augmented Reality ‘Play Chaser’ app, couldn’t save the day!
So, how do you ensure that the same doesn’t happen to your business, and how do you differentiate yourself from your rivals? Three keywords: connect, interact, and adapt.
For businesses to really succeed today, they must adapt to the digital age – it’s as simple as that. The overall reason why traditional stores are disappearing at rapid rates is because they aren’t modernizing the way they run, and they aren’t evolving in this fast-paced environment. In the survival of the fittest, these stagnant bricks-and-mortar stores are unfortunately the weaker species.
However, it’s not all doom and gloom! Despite these difficult times of store-closures, bankruptcy, and administration, we should focus instead on the large number of eCommerce brands that are leading the way in successful omnichannel retailing. These merchants are finding new and improved ways to ensure their customers remain loyal to their brand, and stay encouraged to shop in-person, as well as online. Here are some great examples of how brands are leading the way in omnichannel innovation:
If you happened to watch the BBC documentary ‘Flatpack Empire: Episode 3’ recently then you’ll have seen just how determined Swedish giant, IKEA, were to improve and revolutionise their in-store shopping experience, to better suit their ever-changing customer needs.
Removing its iconic pathways and arrows, IKEA’s Wembley store is headlining a new face-lift – a creation of themed room-sets, explored as if houses on a street, to better reflect a changing world. This form of experiential shopping is great for so many reasons: customers can visualise products in a home-environment easier, more potential for up-sells and cross-sells when seen as a ‘set’, word-of-mouth marketing, need we say more? The store already excels in customer interactions, with things like supervised play areas, seasonal events like Santa’s Grotto, furniture ‘slumber parties’, children’s ‘Let’s play for change’ workshops, and more recently ‘IKEA Art Week‘, so we have no doubt that this new concept will work wonders for business.
This in-store experimentation, together with their amazing ARKit technology, click & collect service, take-away-the-same-day ability, and a high value for customer feedback, puts IKEA at the top of the omnichannel food chain. They’re truly a company that lives and breathes innovation, and are a great example of a brand ensuring that their products are accessible to their customers, no matter what channel they are buying on.
With an already renowned eCommerce website behind them, Lush is certainly raising the bar for cosmetic brands right now – and we think they’re killing it when it comes to their in-store experience too.
In their aim to create a more seamless shopping experience for their customers, Lush’s flagship store recently introduced a brand-new, company-developed payment system. Regular tills were done away with and instead replaced with Android-powered tablets. Manned by staff anywhere in the store, they allow customers to checkout and pay at a time convenient to them, avoiding queues and abandoned shopping carts.
And that’s not all when it comes to their technological innovation. With their recently unveiled visual search tool ‘Lush Lens’, allowing customers to discover more about a product with the help of their smartphone, and their future plans for virtual assistant ‘Lush Concierge’ a voice-search tool used for both customers and staff – it seems as though Lush is well on-track to becoming one of the most cutting-edge brands in the industry.
However, understandably these technologies are a huge investment for any business and simply not accessible to all. But, Lush is also a great example that your in-store shopping experience can succeed in other ways – take the concept of their store for example. Enabling customers to see, test, and smell products provides them with an overwhelming need to visit their local shop. Initiating the five senses of a customer and allowing them to engage in live-demonstrations, behind-the-scenes looks, and on-hand expertise, is in essence what makes Lush so successful.
The Rebecca Minkoff brand is a true icon when it comes to blurring the lines between offline and online. Dubbed the ‘store of the future’, their in-store shopping experience involves a multitude of technologies, such as welcome touch-screen and magic mirrors, that help to create the most personalised experience possible – allowing customers to control their own environment and blend both in-store and online offerings.
“We took the eCommerce experience and thought through from a tech perspective where there are human moments where (a customer) is going to abandon the sale or leave the store, so we found these truly human elements that were uncomfortable and we solved them with technology”
And that’s not all. Post in-store purchase, store sales assistants are encouraged to stay in contact with customers, receiving commision on any online purchases made by the customer within 6 months.
In what are hard times for high-street fashion stores, brands are really needing to up their in-store ‘game’. Standing out amongst its competitors, Topshop places a high emphasis on experiential marketing, providing in-store beauty services, cafes, and organised pop-ups in certain flagship stores.
The spontaneous and fun nature of these pop-up events and activities are perfectly targeted at their young audience – as seen by their immersive summer ‘splash’ event, a storefront 360-degree, ride-on, VR water slide photo-booth. Proving that they are business that recognises technology as an enabler of retail experience.
Despite reaching success as an online eCommerce store, Made.com decided to open numerous showrooms across the UK and Europe – and they’re thriving.
“The showrooms really give our customers that confidence to purchase from us. They tend to not start with the entry-level products that they do online. A lot of people would start with the cushions or light, whereas, if they come into the showroom they’re normally going to be making that more measured purchase, so they’re purchasing the sofa or the bed or the cabinets. We actually see an average order value from our visitors of about £530 and that compares to about £265 online. So, there’s a real big difference between online and offline for Made.”– Rebecca Ruddle in her interview with Insider Trends
Supplied with their own handheld tablet, customers are able to self-serve at any point and save ‘liked’ products with a simple tap, emailing the list to themselves so that they don’t forget when they get home. This technology is not only beneficial for the customer, as with each saved product Made are able to see which products are the most popular in their showroom and track their customer’s behaviour online
Whilst there are many benefits involved in occupying your own physical retail space, such as higher conversion rates, Google search engine prioritization, stronger trust between brand and consumer etc. it’s not to say that this is the only option for retailers. Try considering pop-up shops, or ‘stores-within-stores’. These methods will allow you to forgo the risky, lengthy, and expensive process of owning/leasing your own real-estate space and opt instead for a more experimental concept, just like Kenay Home did as they put on a pop-up tour across Spain to test the market.
Overall, a clear theme running throughout the businesses mentioned above, is the alignment across channels – the marrying up of the offline and the online. Their success is driven by their awareness that to strive in retail today, they must bridge the gap between platforms.
What do you think? Do you believe it’s finally the ‘death of the physical store’, or do you think omnichannel retail, and bricks-and-mortar stores, are about to have a serious shakeup? Let us know, we’d love to hear your thoughts.