It's the end of retail as we know it -- at least, according to media reports the internet over.
Brick-and-mortar retailers like J.C. Penney, Macy’s, Sears, Toys “R” Us and Mattress Firm have been facing declining sales for years, but in August of 2018, the closures hit a 10-year high, surpassing the number of closures that occurred during the Great Recession.
Despite these closures, there are some reasons to believe this retail apocalypse is actually being miscategorized. Of course, more people are spending their money online, but offline retail hasn’t dropped off the map just yet. It’s growing, just not as quickly as online retail.
"Stores may have a more important role to play in the U.S. retail ecosystem than we currently appreciate," said analyst Jay Sole. "E-commerce gains do not signal the 'death of stores.'"
Furthermore, a recent report claims we’re actually in the midst of a retail renaissance that revolves around the customer experience, which primarily takes place in brick-and-mortar locations. Driving this renaissance are connected consumers who, by definition, are digitally native, yet highly hands-on.
To reach the connected consumer, retailers must first understand their inherent needs. Despite being digital natives, or at least tech-savvy, connected consumers crave “real-life” experiences to inform their purchase journey. In other words, their purchase journey isn’t one-dimensional. Usually, it includes a lot of online research coupled with in-store experiences. Connected consumers inevitably choose to engage with brands that can go above and beyond the transactional experience, providing both personalization and connection.
They also seek out brands that integrate their digital shopping assistance technology into the built environment using interactive displays, voice-activated service and internet of things applications that allow the consumer to independently access high levels of support.
Let’s take a look at some brands that are leading the charge in the retail renaissance.
Suitsupply is a menswear retailer that is marrying online and offline retail in an innovative new way with its personal styling subscription service, The Box Office. To start, The Box Office uses the consumer’s online browsing and purchasing behavior to curate a selection of clothing to send them.
This offers the best of both shopping worlds to the connected consumer, allowing them to control their purchase experience while giving them the (literal) personal touch they desire.
This eyewear brand has always operated ahead of its time, providing connected consumers with not only a quality product but a custom, thoughtful experience backed by an authentic ethos.
In 2010, it changed the way people picked out glasses by implementing home try-on for people who couldn’t -- or didn’t want to -- make it into the retail store. Now, it's taking that experience to the next level with an augmented reality tool in its app, called Virtual Try-On, that allows you to virtually test drive every single one of Warby Parker's frames on your own face in real time. This could be a great way for Warby Parker to keep its finger on the pulse of its customers’ ever-changing shopping habits.
“Increasingly, customers see bricks-and-mortar stores less as shopping destinations and more as the final step in a multipart transaction that begins online,” said Michelle Tinsley, director of mobility and secure payments in the retail solutions division at Intel.
It would only make sense that one of the brands that connects best to digital natives is a digital native itself.
Apparel brand Everlane started online, but as it grew, the brand saw the benefit its customers could get from a physical location. A brick-and-mortar Everlane store gave connected consumers the opportunity to shop, of course, but more importantly, they could try things on, ensure a good fit and stop in for quick, easy returns and refunds.
How To Capitalize On The Retail Renaissance
So, what does success mean for physical brands in a digital world and vice versa? Creating a custom solution that works for their consumers and their brand.
For example, if you know that customers in your physical stores are searching your website during their shopping experience, you've just identified an opportunity to tie their online and offline experiences together more closely. Location-based coupons, or offers that activate only when a customer is near or inside one of your stores, are one potential option. So is interactive online store maps that help direct customers to products they're looking for.
If you're an online-only brand trying to create a more hands-on experience for your customers, consider how you can get your products into consumers' hands before they purchase. Pop-up shops and mail-order options can be excellent ways to engage people offline. Or consider offering a try-on window like Suitsupply or the clothing subscription service Stitchfix.
More than anything, it's important to create an experience that works for your customer -- not simply follow a trend for the sake of following it.