If I say to a friend – ‘I need a new dress, want to come shopping with me?’ – what is she more likely to do? Grab her laptop/iPad/phone and start scrolling? Or – grab her car keys? We are being told on a daily basis that more and more shopping is being done online – but is it really the time to be writing an obituary for the bricks and mortar store?
Customers are shopping online now because it is cheaper, it is easier, there is a better range, and the information provided often exceeds the limited knowledge of untrained sales assistants. Online shopping means the customer can avoid the salesperson altogether – ironically there is a whole generation of physical shoppers who, if they do grace your door, would prefer limited contact from the sales assistant – but then there are those that rely heavily on the assistant’s inspiration and knowledge. So if these people agree to grace your door, retailers will need to wake up and start employing and training their staff to love their brands and their roles. Creating an experience that gets them coming back again and again – otherwise there is no compelling reason for shoppers to return to our main streets.
Customers, especially the baby boomers, need to feel inspired, enthused, and engaged, and yes – they still love to shop the physical spaces, and let’s face it, they are a huge part of the population – retailers need to be pro-active around finding new ways to get customers inspired. They want an experience, not just a transaction – the catch phrase these days seems to be – ‘Inspire me, show me how to dress, how to adopt the latest trends – make them work for my body shape.’
Who needs a bricks and mortar store when you’ve got a smartphone?
But, if there are no shops, will we be seeing tumbleweeds blowing through malls and main streets soon? Or will our city centres become endless avenues of cafes, bars and restaurants? Or do the retailers become pro-active and start looking to new ways to attract customers back into their stores ?
I believe most shoppers are looking for a degree of personal contact – we may have hundreds of ‘friends’ on Facebook, but we seem to be getting more socially isolated – a day out shopping can be a way to meet with real friends, and engage in the social rituals that we all enjoy. Maybe we should liken the shopping experience to success in the sporting arena – there is the whole build up, the endurance required, getting through the event (the shopping trip) and then the prize at the end – the actual purchase! This event can only be held in-store – it just does not have the same sense of excitement from the comfort of the couch.
The stores that thrive will be those that provide spectacular service, create an exceptional experience and surprise and delight their customers.
Sagging sales, combined with advances in technology, means retailers will have to become smarter, more resourceful and quicker to respond to customer demands. They will have to give customers a very real reason to visit the physical space, one they can’t get online.
For any brand, it is important to get the balance right – a mixture of e-commerce and physical stores is important to create brand awareness, and for a positive consumer experience. Shoppers will have their favourite shops – but they are not going to tolerate poor management, disinterested sales assistants, or lack-lustre store environments. Shoppers demand nothing less than a great experience, so at Annah Stretton we will continue to delight them in surprising ways!