Authored by David Morton, Sales and Solutions Director at ArvatoConnect
Retailers have transformed their business models to support customers in new ways to make sure they can shop safely and deliver premium experiences.
Mamas & Papas turned their in-store events for parents-to-be into online webinars, which include product demonstrations and support and advice on a range of topics from breast-feeding and first-aid to weaning.
Benefit Cosmetics introduced Zoom appointments for customers to speak with a beauty expert face-to-face virtually, to complement the augmented reality tool they already had in place to ‘try on’ different eyebrow styles, shapes and colours.
And the huge surge in digital sales and engagement that brands have adapted to will be no temporary shift. Research from KPMG shows that consumers across all demographics are likely to stick with the channels they’ve adjusted to using since national lockdown restrictions were introduced last March.
Much of the discourse around this has considered the negative impact on physical retail and the future of the high street. But rather than a demise into irrelevancy, bricks and mortar stores will continue to play a vital, yet different role in the drive towards experiential retail.
Blending the retail experience
Importantly, consumers still have a strong appetite to touch and feel the products they want to buy. They want inspiration, immediacy and intimacy with their favourite brands. And despite providing customers with all of their product needs, retailers can’t deliver this in the same way through digital channels alone.
Many have made significant changes to how they interact with customers in-store. Brands from luxury to sportswear have had great success in rolling-out private appointments to provide customers with a hyper-personalised service, and have introduced new services to create a simpler, safer shopping experience.
Adidas, for example, has optimised its app to augment the in-store experience to allow customers to set times for their visit, cut wait times outside shops and give them more time to enjoy the variety of experiential touchpoints they’ve developed for consumers to engage with.
At Marks & Spencer, customers can now quickly buy groceries in stores without visiting a till by using the retailer’s Mobile Pay Go app, in what it says represents a significant move towards contact-free shopping.
A presence for brand values
But alongside meeting the desire for physical engagement, bricks and mortar networks present retailers with the opportunity to meet the growing pressure from consumers, financial backers and other stakeholders to demonstrate their sustainability credentials.
The pandemic has made people reflect on their purchasing decisions. Environmental and social responsibility are holding much greater influence and we’re seeing more appetite for transparency, from sourcing raw materials to recycling waste and supporting local communities. The in-store experience will be the perfect place for brands to showcase this and demonstrate that their values reflect those of their customers.
Some retailers, from Patagonia to Timberland, are stealing a march on the competition in shifting the purpose of their stores to bring their environment, social and governance (ESG) strategies to life. Timberland’s ‘purpose-led’ flagship store on Carnaby Street is a perfect example – it uses living trees and towering pillars to reference the brand’s use of recycled materials, community projects and overall creative vision.
A new purpose
In this context, physical stores will no longer be the places where transactions happen; the advantages of customers doing that online are just too great. This represents a reversal in roles and instead, retailers have the opportunity to use them as brand destinations for consumers.
With fewer people buying products in-store, they can be used as logistics hubs to keep enticing customers in as the click-and-collect culture becomes the norm. But as opposed to just providing pick-up locations, it provides the perfect opportunity to upsell and immerse consumers in the brand as people browse. Helpfully, it also cuts the expensive, last-mile delivery costs that create such tight margins for ecommerce.
Online and bricks and mortar have traditionally sat in separate silos, but the drive towards experiential retail will see them integrate.
To learn more about the future role of physical stores, read our latest report on what’s next for retail customer experience which includes insight from Mamas & Papas, Benefit Cosmetics, Lloyds Bank and consultancy Quantspark – https://www.arvatoconnect.co.uk/arvatotalks/whats-in-store-for-retail-the-future-of-customer-experience/