We’ve all heard talk about the pending death of brick-and-mortar in the digital age. We’re certainly seeing declines in an overpopulated retail marketplace as consumers grow more comfortable shopping online. In fact, in the fourth quarter of 2016, about 9.5 percent of all retail sales were transacted online. However, rather than experiencing a full-fledged extinction of brick-and-mortar, the reality is that the retail landscape is rife with opportunity for rebirth. The successful stores left standing will do so because they’ve recognized the need to create emotionally engaging customer experiences that go well beyond places of inventory.
We consume more digitally and have become more isolated. A larger-than-we’d-like-to-admit amount of our lives is increasingly spent sequestered to the sofa, sitting alone with our laptops or smartphones. As a result, of all our senses, touch is the one taking the greatest hit. When an unmet need occurs in one place, its importance — and its competitive advantage — rises in another. The missing sensorial experience of touch in the digital space will grow in desire and importance in the physical space. Touch will become a key component of the brick-and-mortar experience that retailers can dial up.
Need-Based vs. Leisure-Based Shopping
Undoubtedly, many of our day-to-day product needs can be met online. Amazon.com's Subscribe & Save will replenish toilet paper like clockwork. But unlike needs-based shopping, retail shopping remains a leisure-based activity. Experience-seeking consumers have become exceedingly discerning about where they’ll spend their time and money. To meet growing consumer expectations, there’s a real need for the retail experience to be more engaging and tactile than ever before. As Simon Collins, former dean of fashion at Parsons says, “One of the things you can’t buy online is actual experience. Touching actual things, meeting actual people, having actual conversations.”
Curated Experiences Are Greater Than Transactions
In an age of sterile, neatly packaged Stitch Fix deliveries, there’s something refreshing about the tactile act of perusing merchandise in-store. Do cyberbots have the capacity to translate the indescribable feel of cashmere in 12-point Helvetica? Doubtful. Retail has the inherent ability to offer a palpable experience rather than a simple transaction. It would behoove retailers to explore nuanced ways to curate and personalize in-store experiences.
It’s time we usher in a new era of higher-level marketing that looks beyond static smartphone screens and considers customers’ senses holistically. From deliberately curated music playlists based on brand and target insights to personalized digital signage based on purchase behaviors and beacon technology to the scent in the air, it’s crucial that retailers understand their targets’ unique preferences.
Applying Digital Benefits to Brick-and-Mortar
Undeniably, the digital world has its advantages. Consumers are accustomed to having a seemingly endless amount of personalized content in the palm of their hands. Successful retailers borrow what consumers love about online shopping and apply those conveniences in-store. Amazon Go brings seamless checkout to life, forgoing traditional methods. Inventory at your fingertips? Fashion brand Rebecca Minkoff has implemented RFID tags for interactive stock checks that are as effortless as online shopping. Personalization? Uniqlo’s Union Square storefront is appointed with touchscreen mirrors that serve as virtual fitting rooms.
The way consumers shop is forever changing as technology integrates the online and offline worlds. Consumers are glued to a multitude of screens all day — be it smartphone, tablet or laptop. Once they look up from their backlit retina displays they will be increasingly compelled to seek out real, palpable experiences. Shoppers will particularly crave more tactile interactions in-store, and retailers must begin implementing holistic, higher-level sensorial marketing to create distinct in-store experiences.
Scott Moore is the global senior vice president of marketing at Mood Media, a global leader in elevating customer experiences.