Everyone is feeling the impact of COVID-19 on brick-and-mortar retail — from small businesses to goliaths like Neiman Marcus and J.C. Penney. Although storefronts are closing, this traditional channel is pivoting as brands look to do more with less by enhancing the retail experience across fewer, more targeted locations.
Despite the news, consumers value brick-and-mortar locations as an opportunity to be entertained with unique experiences rather than just being a hub for products. Microsoft’s news is a good example of this: it plans to shutter all retail locations while moving forward with reimagined “Experience Centers.”
With lockdowns easing, retailers will have to go all-in on this mind-set to develop meaningful and long-lasting customer experiences.
Gen Z Has Embraced Brick-and-Mortar
Consumers, especially Gen Z, were looking for more modern, internet-born characteristics in their physical shopping experiences long before the pandemic began. Despite the huge e-commerce infrastructure this digitally native generation always had access to, 80 percent of Gen Zers enjoy shopping in physical stores.
Gen Z prefers to experience products and test them out in person to see if they're the right fit for them before making a purchase. They also expect brands to engage with them on a deeper level than just at the surface, with shopping experiences that are more personalized to them, their interests, and their needs.
Direct-to-consumer (D-to-C) brands like Casper and Glossier had already developed forward-thinking strategies to address this trend. By focusing on fewer, more targeted locations, D-to-C brands have been able to cater in-store experiences to the modern consumer inspired by online expectations. This fusion of the digital world into physical spaces has been embraced by brands and advertisers looking to connect with their customers by reaching them with digital media as well as, for example, real-world venue-based digital-out-of-home (DOOH) to create an omnichannel experience.
While e-commerce can carry a majority of growth and sales, that opportunity to connect directly with consumers in an experiential and memorable way cannot be filled solely by the devices in our pockets.
Truly savvy marketers understand that an interconnected digital and physical strategy is key to driving consumer connection, and a more targeted approach makes this mission much easier to accomplish while setting the scene for future on-brand experiences.
Consumer Safety is Key for Brick-and-Mortar Retail
How consumers shop online and in-store has likely been changed forever. Retailers have to understand how the traditional brick-and-mortar store can evolve to address changing consumer behavior as part of the future consumer experience.
Values such as trust have skyrocketed, with many consumers wary of visiting physical retail locations even as the economy continues to reopen. Ubimo's data shows that movement around OOH media in malls is still down compared to pre-COVID levels. For example, the week of 6/29–7/5, foot traffic in malls around media was down 63.7 percent.
How that translates into the store of the future could mean a greater emphasis on no-touch interactive displays, socially distanced store layouts, contactless payments, and more. We're already seeing an increase in demand for services like buy online pick up in-store (BOPIS).
With the brick-and-mortar landscape rapidly changing as the pandemic evolves, data can be used to guide the change in strategies in order to stay relevant and top of mind.
Brick-and-Mortar Can Pivot With DOOH
Change was already in the wind with Gen Z’s growing buying power and expectations. The pandemic brings along its own unique set of elements that will continue to alter the modern consumer’s DNA. Retailers must be ready to offer experiences that consumers have been demanding and responding to for several years: experiences that seamlessly blend the digital and physical worlds.
Ran Ben-Yair is co- founder and general manager of of location intelligence technology company Ubimo, a Quotient company.
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