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The retail store of the future: experience enhancer, not pick-up point

When it comes to the future of retail stores, there are two clear trends: the catastrophists who say that physical stores are dead, and the revisionists who say that physical retail is here to stay. Indeed, physical retail will not only survive, but thrive, if used to enhance a customers’ coherent omnichannel experience of a brand.

Catastrophists: “It’s closing time”

For catastrophists, the days of the physical store are numbered. This is supported by data from a variety of studies. For example, according to a Capgemini study 66% of consumers feel bothered when they need to stand in line to pay, 65% cannot find the products they want in the store, and one third of consumers would rather clean dishes than visit a physical store!

Revisionists: Bricks and__ clicks__

The opinion of the revisionists is very different, and has its own supporting data. According to an article published in the Spring issue of the MIT Review, consumers that are exposed to brands offline are more willing to try other products; a PWC survey indicates that 53% of consumers value interacting with a salesperson; and the same Capgemini study quoted above affirms that 70% of consumers enjoy touching and testing products before purchasing them. According to revisionists, the future of brick and mortar retail is safe only if stores are capable to find new functions and redefine the customer experience; but how?

It has been a while since brick-and-mortar retail stores were the only place where consumers could purchase products. Of course, physical stores must maintain this function, but this cannot be their primary reason for being. Yes, stores could serve more as showrooms for brands, as well as pick-up points for online shoppers, but brick-and-mortar stores must make the most of their ability to give the consumer an experience.

For revisionists, brick-and-mortar stores can be redesigned to play a role where digital brands are made tangible or where users can test products before purchasing them. However, above all the new functions that the physical stores of the future can have, one purpose must prevail: to offer remarkable and memorable customer experiences.

From a customer perspective, the online/offline dichotomy is a false one; customers expect to have only one, coherent relationship with a brand. This is why it is essential for brands to formulate a smooth, complementary omnichannel strategy that connects physical and digital stores.

The importance of in-person customer experiences

Brick and mortar retail should also enhance all the things that—for now—digital shopping cannot offer. For example, warm, human interaction, a fluid and value-added conversation between the client and the brand, and the possibility to touch or try products. Without question, technology is an essential ally when defining the new purpose of brick-and-mortar stores. Brands such as Zara and Adidas have been trying for a while to offer new customer experiences that are supported on different technological solutions.

Online brands must learn that there is no substitute for experiencing something in real life. In this sense, brick-and-mortar retail stores should strengthen the emotional side of shopping and rely on assets such as flagship stores where brands can showcase their own values, personality, image and corporate identity. This helps stores build fun, young, and different customer experiences that appeal to the emotions of clients and, if properly implemented, leave a lasting impression on shoppers’ hearts and minds.

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