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The retail environment is constantly shifting. As consumer needs change and technologies advance, retailers must continuously evolve to keep pace.

The rise of eCommerce has helped to create an exciting new retail environment. Shoppers no longer need to go into the brick-and-mortar store. Instead, they choose to be there. Successful retailers understand that to bring in more shoppers they have to create experiences that consumers want to enjoy. Experiences that keep them coming back for more. The simple transaction of purchasing products is increasingly not enough to entice shoppers, and that trend is set to continue.

The World Economic Forum predicts that online transactions could account for us much as 50% of sales in some sectors by 2027[1]. As eCommerce moves sales online, the role of brick-and-mortar stores is evolving.

With online sales steadily rising many have heralded the death of retail but consumers still value physical stores and to overlook the role they have to play may be short-sighted. While the sale is increasingly made online, for many consumers the physical store still plays an important role in the path to purchase. When you measure sales by channel this fact is easy to ignore.

In an omnichannel world the role of the retail store is changing. Forward-thinking retailers are moving away from channel strategies to a “one market” approach where sales are shared and channels work together to create a seamless experience. Consumers are guided towards the products that are most appropriate for them and purchasing their chosen item is made easy, no matter where they choose to make that purchase. For example, if your buying history and preferences mean that you receive a personalised email promoting a new jacket that same jacket is in the window when you walk past the store-front. When you walk into the store you get a text message telling you this location has your size, and when you log on to the website your personalised homepage shows you all the available colours the jacket comes in. In this connected environment all the pieces of the consumer’s experience that led to the sale have to be considered, not only where the sale was finally made.

Brick-and-mortar stores are the space where your brand can come to life and where you can build trust with consumers by showing, not telling, who you are and what you stand for. The physical store is the only permanent space where consumers can interact with your product, which is especially important for retailers selling goods that consumers want to touch, taste or smell, for example clothing or beauty products.  The retail store is a space where you can engage all five senses for a more memorable experience. Memorable experiences help consumers to remain engaged with your brand.

Creating memorable experiences means retailers have to do more than make products available for sale. Retailers need to consider the needs of their target audience and create an environment that speaks directly to them. Consider how your brand looks, sounds and smells then bring it to life in-store – if your consumers find your store environment engaging they will linger longer and come back more often. Go a step further and create an immersive brand experience considering the needs your brand fills for the consumer and how you can add greater value in these areas. For example, if your brand sells athletic clothing could you offer monthly “get-started” clinics featuring different local sports clubs, or even build a running track or climbing wall? If you’re a grocery store could you create a test kitchen and invite shoppers to take part in cookery classes, or invite a registered dietician to give talks about cooking for health and wellness?

Retail stores can also connect a brand to the local community. By creating “hyper-local” environments that act as community hubs, for example areas showcasing local artists or spaces where local groups are invited to meet, brands can break out of the “cookie-cutter” mould and create a localised feel that consumers, especially millennials, increasingly seek out.

The move away from the “faceless” brand towards local stores with a sense of responsibility to their immediate community is anticipated to continue. By creating stores that are representative of their local setting physical stores can help brands to stay relevant in this evolving retail environment. Forward-thinking retailers are increasingly considering how their brand comes to life in each location rather than creating a single retail environment that is implemented everywhere, and could be anywhere. In this way, retail stores are meeting the needs of consumers who increasingly want to feel connected to the community around them.

Barely a day goes by when I don’t see a headline shouting the demise of the retail industry. But I disagree. Retail is not dying. Retail stores remain important to consumers but their role is changing.

Retail has always been evolving and that need to rethink and reimagine the retail store will continue as consumer needs and technologies develop. Forward-thinking retailers are excited by the opportunity to create new in-store experiences that engage with consumers on a more personalised level, creating environments that add value and encourage a sense of community and belonging.

[1] Shaping The Future Of Retail For Consumer Industries, World Economic Forum Insights Report, January 2017


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