A lot of people see the Internet as the future and bricks & mortar as being the past. The way we should see physical retail spaces are as areas that we can leverage to communicate what on-line just can’t.
On-line shopping is a totally different shopping platform. There are no goods to touch, sniff, shake rattle or purloin. The whole retail experience has been taken away. Shoppers have to wait hours, if not longer to receive their treasured purchases: There goes the good old fashioned impulse purchase. And in addition, we don’t often know if we’ll even like the item(s) we've just paid for. So as shoppers, we’re expected to select items from looking at a few digital images often accompanied by some corny text. Then retailers want us to wait and wait and wait. Finally, we have to trust to luck that we’ll like what we've bought.
But on the flip side, we can buy products we haven’t thoroughly examined and wait for them as we hope we've made a good purchasing decision all from the comfort of our home, office or anywhere we can get a mobile phone signal. Well that’s all good then.
Online isn't shopping it's getting
What has happened to the good old-fashioned retail experience? has become an illustrated spreadsheet once it goes on-line, (something the accountants will like then). What it hasn't yet become is a shopper oriented retail environment.
It has taken the last 100 years or so for humans to get the most out of shopping. Many shoppers do like to browse lots of products. And they do like to be able to pick out the ones they like for closer inspection (who knows how that is going to happen in the metaverse!)
As shoppers, a lot of us do like a surprise in every aisle: Something we weren't expecting; something to jolt us out of our shopping trance and emotionally engage us.
Many of us get a rush from that impulse purchase we just buy on the spur on the moment (and sometimes regret buying later).
On-line retail has taken away so many of the things that as a species humans like about hunting and gathering new things. Yes we have massive amounts of choice. Yes we can compare prices in an instant and yes we can shop 24/7 without any physical effort. But some shoppers don’t want this. Honestly, we have evidence to prove this, lots of it!
Time for Bricks & Mortar to fight back
So if on-line retail has taken all of the experience out of shopping, how are bricks & mortar stores fighting back? Bizarrely, by removing much of their advantage, the shopping experience, as possible. Modern day stores (particularly out of town) are becoming ever more similar to each other. The same cream shelves, uniform ‘up and down’ aisles, every conceivable type of product displayed in exactly the same way. How can it be that Champagne is merchandised exactly the same as Toilet Duck?
Bricks & mortar retail is heading directly away from what a lot of shoppers want, so here are 5 ways to fight the threat of on-line:
Bricks & mortar
- Differentiate bricks & mortar from on-line by providing a multi-sensory experience in-store: Go beyond visual
- Use bricks & mortar stores to emotionally engage with shoppers in ways that on-line just can’t. Since anything can be bought on-line, stores must adopt a 'wow' shopping experience strategy
- Stop trying to be functional warehouses without the fork lift trucks - Bring back the 'experience' it needn't cost the Earth, but can generate fantastic sales and brand loyalty
- Let brands brand! These global giants know what it takes to generate attention, engagement and sales in-store - Ditch the 'not corporate' excuse
- You need to humanise your retail spaces a bit more (a lot more actually)
Oh and online, there are many ways you can become more shopper oriented too, including:
- Create on-line sites that let shoppers browse more than scroll: Offer on-line shoppers virtual reality walk-throughs, not spreadsheet type lists
- When presenting product images on-line, please please, please add context and scale to the shots
- On the subject of on-line imagery, 25mm thumbnails may be the norm, but do they sell (or just tick a box)?
- Go beyond measuring clicks: Start to understand emotional engagement and what drives propensity to buy on-line
- And just like Bricks & mortar, You need to humanise your retail spaces a lot more!
Today’s shopper wants to shop when, where and how they want, and both physical stores and on-line need to evolve and enhance the shopping experience. For 30 years I have been professionally studying shoppers and shopping. I have a lot of hard research evidence that points to the fact that many explicit and implicit shopping needs aren't currently being met; neither by bricks & mortar nor on-line. And furthermore, neither channel seems to understand its own strengths and weaknesses from a shopper and shopping perspective – You know, shoppers, those people that pay the wages of everyone involved in retail – Even the accountants.