Is physical retail really dying? Not according to statistics, which show that upwards of 80 percent of all retail sales still take place in traditional brick-and-mortar stores. Yes, marketplaces like Amazon.com provide the convenience of online and mobile shopping, but physical retail continues to deliver on the promise of human-centered experiences. After all, humans are the ultimate business tool. Technology only helps amplify that fact.
Use Technology Purposefully
Technology can improve any experience, however, it’s crucial to understand that it can also ruin any experience. Not all human tasks are best suited for a robot, and you shouldn't use technology for technology’s sake.
The most useful applications of in-store technology are those that enhance the experience of both the shopper and the employee. This guiding principle is what Apple Senior Vice President of Retail Angela Ahrendts has prioritized in reshaping the company's stores.
Tracking in-store behavior data and then serving it to employees to help people shop drives the experience. So too does the offering of compelling, unique product demos. In addition, thanks to the the ‘drop culture’ scarcity model spurred by youth and cultural brands, physical retail can use technology to innovate and entice pivotal audiences by forming human connections.
Encourage Human Interaction
Recent reports find that 77 percent of the Gen Z market prefer brick-and-mortar store experiences, while 53 percent of millennials prefer to make purchases in physical stores. The reason is simple: physical retail is an inherently social behavior and humans are instinctively social creatures.
The physical retail browsing experience cannot be replicated by e-commerce due to its social construct. It's both aspirational and inspirational, as a person’s individual sense of style emerges from their translation of what they experience in the social world. This isn't just about fashion; this is about developing your own personal identity myth. It’s more than just a convenient transaction and fulfillment that seamlessly delivers to your home. It’s a core social imperative that extends across physical and digital worlds.
Retail’s Road Ahead
Human interaction remains vital to physical experiences. Retailers must continue to provide a space where meaningful, digitally integrated brand and product experiences can live together. Hard selling and persuasion in this space just creates more noise, while immersive experiences that are engaging and compelling make people want to buy. If you’re a retailer providing this experience, telling meaningful stories that capture brand purpose or attracting interest by hitting on cultural touchpoints, people will choose to buy from you — both online and offline.
Warwick Heathwood is the director of strategy at SET, a full-service experiential agency.