The online retail landscape is growing stronger every year—a fact that will surprise only those still living in 1980. In 2017, Americans spent $16.74 billion online from Black Friday to Cyber Monday, with mobile grabbing an increased slice of the pie compared to the previous year.
These trends in the retail landscape aren’t good news for everyone, however. If they continue, how will traditional brick and mortar retail stores survive? The answer is, they won’t—traditional brick and mortar stores are dying.
But physical retail spaces are still far from extinct.
The New Brick and Mortar
In-store and online experiences are not two separate pieces of a puzzle. They serve the same purpose — differentiating your brand and delighting your consumer.
Randy Antin, product marketing manager of retail, CPG, and search at LiveRamp, says the challenge in today’s retail landscape is “figuring out how you combine the experience of buying in person with the convenience of being able to buy online.”
Consumers still want to experience a product first-hand, feel the fabric of a new coat, listen to a new pair of headphones, or try on a pair of shoes. Even Amazon has opened physical retail locations. But experiencing a great product isn’t enough anymore. Customers are expecting the store to be an experience itself.
Take Burberry, whose former CEO Angela Ahrendts said, “walking through the doors is just like walking into our website.” Interactive mirrors transform into personalized screens, and merchandise is outfitted with RFID chips that prompt relevant content as you walk by. Or walk into a changing room, and screens will show you information on sizing, fit, and more, allowing you to order online on the spot if your size isn’t in stock.
The brands who are doing this well bring the convenience of online shopping to the physical store, elevating their brick and mortar locations from a place to make a purchase to a genuine experience.
Value, Not Price
Consumers are looking for brands that add value to their lives. Truly understanding what your consumer values is key to creating a retail brand and space reflecting shared perspectives.
Antin explains it well. “There’s a difference between price and value. If you can add meaning to someone’s life, emotional or physical, you’re going to gain ambassadors.”
One such brand is clothing company Marine Layer. They started with a really high quality product—t-shirts so soft that fans leave comments like, “I want to be buried in Marine Layer.”
That kind of customer loyalty isn’t just driven by quality, though. Where Marine Layer succeeds, and what other brands can learn, is in paying attention to the customer. The service, the experience, and engagement with customers both in store and on social media is what makes them stand out in a crowded marketplace.
Emerging brands can still win with a great product that people have an emotional attachment to.
What Will The Retail Landscape Look Like In The Future?
The next revolution in the retail landscape is already here. IKEA is using augmented reality (AR) to show you furniture in your home before you buy it. Clothing brands like Uniqlo and Converse are using AR to let you try on apparel with smart mirrors in-store. And at certain Lego stores, Digital Boxes show you a 3D animated version of what a fully assembled toy looks like if you hold merchandise up to it. It won’t be long before AR becomes commonplace.
But as we look to the future of retail, it’s impossible to predict exactly what stores will look like in even five years. Mobile technology and the retail landscape are changing so fast, it’s going to be crucial for brands to adapt much more nimbly.
As marketers, managing a cohesive customer experience online and offline can seem daunting, especially when competing against a behemoth like Amazon. Antin’s advice? Keep it simple. “Focus on product and what you represent. You’re going to lose on price, but you can win on quality, personality, brand, and experience.”