It might surprise you to learn that brick-and-mortar retail is still the most dominant form of retail. No, it may not have been during the COVID-19 pandemic, but it will be again, the more things get back to normal. Retail stores took a major hit while everyone stayed home, and some of them never recovered. However, brick-and-mortar stores that remain, and the ones that will start popping up soon, can still compete if they play their cards right.
Experiential retail will be a big part of it. The concept started seeing growth a few years ago, but the rise of internet purchasing with the onset of the pandemic dropped it to the bottom of the list of priorities for many retailers. However, it is now front and center again, and if stores want to compete, they need to make it a part of their in-store experience going forward.
What Is Experiential Retail?
As the name would suggest, experiential retail is the concept of offering a superior experience to shoppers. Gone are the days when it’s good enough to have a great product and reasonable prices. Customers now need reasons to visit a shop when they can get so much online. Experiential retail is what will help brick and mortar stores compete with that mounting challenge.
We all saw similar scenes when areas of the country would lift restrictions. There were lines around the block in some cases to get into clothing stores, hardware, and other “non-essential” places. As things start to normalize even further, physical stores will need to keep those gains by offering something above and beyond the traditional model. Otherwise, they will not just lose business to online services, but to other brick and mortar stores that are willing to make those investments. Experiential retail is more relevant than ever before. Here’s why.
- The Human Factor
Many people around the country spent most of 2020 at home, not able to do the things they normally do or shop the way they normally shop. They had very little personal contact with other human beings during that time. If they did, it was probably at a distance of six feet or more.
The human factor is a big part of experiential retail. Retail staff must be prepared to provide the absolute best in customer service. They must treat their customers as friends when they arrive. Every question should get an immediate answer, and every customer treated with kindness and courtesy. And don’t forget the power of simply remembering a frequent customer’s name! No detail for the in-store experience can be left to fall through the cracks.
- Sensory Experiences
With so much available online, people don’t need to shop in a physical store. However, they may still prefer to, especially if the brick-and-mortar experience is positive. Part of that positive experience is highlighting the physical space and making it look and feel great for the customer.
Everything should look inviting, including the floors, walls, racks, and even acrylic sign holders. However, it goes beyond that. Retailers also need to make sure that there is something to engage the senses while customers shop.
Visual merchandising is the best way to accomplish this. It’s a strategy that uses attractive decor, lighting, and colors to highlight merchandise and encourage shoppers to buy. Visual merchandising is the biggest advantage over online retail shopping a brick-and-mortar store has. With online shopping, you don’t always know what you’re looking at. You often can’t see what size things are, or even their true colors.
With the right visual merchandising techniques, your products are far more than properly displayed. They tap the senses of your customers and can keep them coming back.
In this age of the internet, we are getting more and more used to personalization. Ads are curated by an algorithm to hit only the most appropriate demographics. Our social media feeds are tailor-made to our interests. Our data is all over the internet providing services with everything they need to make our experience on the web different from anyone else’s.
With eCommerce, when you shop, you get recommendations and special sales based on your search and purchase histories. Retailers must take advantage of this concept to compete.
Retailers are creating a seamless interaction between in-store and online journeys. Customers can create accounts where their purchases are tracked. Stores can leverage these customer accounts to provide further personalization and even go so far as to be personal shoppers when customers are inside the store. For example, as customers arrive at the store, they can use an app or log in to a terminal and the staff can access their preferences and buying habits. Customers can then enjoy the same targeted, individualized journey inside the store as they do when shopping online.
There’s no way of knowing where society is headed as we slowly transition out of the pandemic. There have been some big changes since March of 2020 in every sector. Some of those changes will end up being permanent, and some will end up reverting back to how things were before the pandemic.
When it comes to retail, while brick and mortar stores are not going away completely, it is still getting harder for them to compete. They must adapt with the times, and evolve in ways that will help them compete, not just with eCommerce, but with other brick and mortar stores as well. Experiential retail can help them do that.