Brick-And-Mortar in an Age of E-commerce  

March 29, 2018

It’s no secret that you can buy anything online today, right down to getting your toothpaste shipped to your door step. This convenience has been changing the way consumers shop. But what does this mean for retailers? How are they responding to this shift in the shopper mindset?

Brands and retailers are catching on. More and more we hear, “we want something like the museum of ice cream.” This trend is influencing brands and creating a desire to offer a differentiated brand or in-store experience that captures their consumers attention like never before. These experiences tend to be not only aesthetically interesting but highly sensory, drawing in the consumer and giving them a reason to discover it for themselves.

Brands like Sephora are doing a standout job of creating a differentiated in-store experience that actually drives consumers to the shelf. They’ve been laser focused on inventing new ways to make the beauty experience fun and engaging for shoppers, with beauty work stations, highly knowledgeable beauty staffers on site and iPads throughout the selling floor to offer digitally-enabled self-service. They’ve acknowledge that today’s consumer is not interested in bellying up to the beauty counter at a department store and having someone tell them what to get or the totally disengaged experience of roaming the makeup aisle of a drug store completely lost on what to buy. Instead, consumers want to experiment and be in control of their experience. So, in addition to making sure their store is visually stimulating, Sephora has made it their mission to strike the right balance between human and technical interaction at the store level, something that continues to be extremely important among their millennial and emerging Gen Z audiences.

I’ve also noticed that many brands will accomplish a similar IRL experience by creating unique pop up events that typically last a day or two. These are effective in that brands can create a unique experience to introduce themselves or remind their audience how cool they are, but then what? I think there is an opportunity for brands to evolve the “pop up” over time and create ongoing engagement by establishing more permanent experiences for their audiences.

For example, the Nike store in SoHo branches from their typical store format by creating the ultimate playground for sports lovers. Consumers can test run shoes by hopping on a treadmill that’s placed in front of screens simulating different outdoor runs. They can play soccer, run drills with coaches on site to test different styles or even shoot hoops on a basketball court with cameras that captures their skills at every angle. Better yet, they get all of this footage sent directly to them so they can share it with their friends. It’s aesthetically pleasing too. From the eye catching stainless steel mannequins displayed artistically in the window, to large scale installations made out of product throughout the space to special light boxes and displays for the shoes. The entire experience is elevated beyond just a typical shopping experience, driving consumers in-store to see it and experience it for themselves.

I guess the moral of the story is that physical brand interaction is more important than ever, and brands need to continue to find creative ways to differentiate themselves by offering experiences that expand beyond just the transaction. They need to get consumers out from under their phones and laptops and get them fully immersed, so they stay longer and engage more.  Something e-commerce simply cannot compete with.