Everything old is new again, or so they say. That at least seems to be the case with brick-and-mortar stores, which after years of doom-and-gloom reports warning of their imminent demise, are now making a comeback in fresh and innovative ways.
Sure, people are buying online now more than ever, but that hasn’t necessarily come at the expense of physical retail. As retailers grapple with the new realities of how consumers shop, they are increasingly finding ways to make the best use of their real estate, even if it means completely redefining what the in-store experience looks like. Below are some ways that brands old and new are attracting foot traffic.
While legacy retailers continuously work to improve their e-commerce experiences, many successful online startups have recently opted to open up pop-ups and physical locations for fans to check out. In fact, a recent report from JLL Retail found that “digital-native brands are expanding their presence into brick-and-mortar stores across the country, with plans of 850 stores in the pipeline over the next five years.”
One of those brands is Zola, a popular wedding planning and registry company geared towards millennials. The startup recently opened a pop-up store in New York City, where guests could meet with a “Zola Advisor” for help with everything from registries to invitations to wedding party attire. Couples could also enjoy other bridal perks, like the option to design their own wedding cake topper with a 3D printer.
Another example is Casper, the e-commerce company that made its name by shipping mattresses straight to its customers’ doors. The five-year-old company has since opened seven stores and counting, with plans to open 200 within the next three years.
While these stores obviously sell products, they’re just as much a marketing tool for these brands, as they provide people with experiences and offerings that they simply can’t get online. Marketers can then ultimately determine what in-store experiences can complement their online business.
Utilize Employee Time
Retailers are increasingly finding new ways for in-store employees to make the best use of their time to make both the e-commerce and brick-and-mortar shopping experience more seamless.
For instance, a firm launched in 2015 called Hero works with companies including Ted Baker and Harvey Nichols to transform retail spaces into “smart stores of the future” – leveraging a platform to foster interactions between in-store associates and online shoppers via messaging, photos and video. The service allows online shoppers to experience the same advice and service that they would if they were actually shopping in person.
As more and more people shop online, it may seem as though the role of the store associate is slowly being rendered useless. But that’s certainly not the case, as retailers are increasingly seeing the many ways that their employees can play a vital role in making sure that both online and in-store shoppers are happy.
With so many different ways to shop now, a subpar – or even average – retail experience can turn even the most loyal fan away. Knowing that people can just as make purchases from mobile devices, retailers are now going above and beyond to offer customers one-of-a-kind experiences and atmospheres that will keep them coming back for more.
Athleisure brand Lululemon is going all in on this strategy: it’s planning to open a 25,000-square-foot store in Chicago that will be complete with a yoga studio, meditation room and food & drink service. According to the brand, about 10% of its stores will be considered “experiential” by 2023.
Macy’s is another retailer that’s testing out new concepts for its brick-and-mortar stores. Less than a year after acquiring Story, an NYC-based “narrative-driven” store that regularly changes its theme and product selection, Macy’s is rolling out the format in 36 of its own locations nationwide. The first theme, dubbed Color, features a “rainbow of curated, giftable products” as well as workshops and events from partners including Crayola, MAC Cosmetics and Levi’s kids.
Luxury retailer Barneys has recently launched a “store-within-a-store” concept as well, although theirs is more catered to adults. Called The High End, the pop-up shop – which is currently only in its flagship Beverly Hills location – is a luxury cannabis lifestyle and wellness hub that sells everything from custom blown glass pipes to vintage ashtrays.
These various offerings from retailers might seem elaborate, but in a landscape where brands are constantly competing for attention, it’s never been more important to differentiate. While physical stores might seem “old-school,” they’re more and more proving to be effective channels for brands to show off their personality and value.