Can Brick and Mortar Survive

So long ago that it fades at the edge of memory, in the time of pre-COVID, one of the best bit of advice I could give to a Main St brick and mortar shop was to create an environment that would pique consumer interest. Give them an experience they want to repeat and events to get them back into the store. You know, face-to-face…

This is something I was working on from that 'before' time.

As the online marketplace is transcending any geographic location, bargains are only a click away, and on-demand deliveries can find you anywhere, retail stores are dying out faster than dinosaurs after an asteroid shower. But must they? They are finding they can’t compete on price, they can’t really deliver faster anymore and it becomes increasingly clear that brick and mortar retail needs to reinvent itself.

Retailers and brands everywhere are facing unrelenting pressures from:

    • intense competition
    • an increasing need for on-demand delivery
    • a consumer base with changing preferences
    • a desire for social responsibility
    • the requirement to keep up with the latest technology.
While larger, less-flexible retail operations will succumb to these pressures, more agile brands will succeed by embracing freedom, change and opportunity.

Service, Service, Service

As we all know, customer service is going to win and keep customers. So retailers must be sure to cover all the bases. Hire for attitude and make sure in-store staff project the image of the store to all customers.

Reach into the community and service the local-specific needs. Be a presence in you town or locality. Sponsor the little league team, buy all the Girl Scout cookies, provide a reason to be at the store--like the toy store that offers activities for kids after school and was forced to grow locations to accommodate demand. Also participate in social media in creative ways that allow you to be part of the conversation.

One local hardware store I worked with is a particularly good example:

Making use of social media and building an interwoven omnichannel social media presence, Saunders Hardware created a network that links multiple store locations with customers and local craftsmen, handymen, and contractors. It became a living, breathing bulletin board providing homeowner tips, curated content on home improvement, and original content on in-store products.
During a period of heavy storm activity--including two hurricanes and paralyzing blizzards--the social media audience was enlisted for travel and traffic suggestions,  location and availability of fuel, batteries and generators...even if it meant sending customers to other retailers. Saunders used their posts to provide information on how to preserve food and where to pick up necessities and charge phones. The authentic helpfulness was very well-regarded by the community and being timely with news items, road closures, and weather reports helped build the audience. The brand enjoyed a level of trust and patronage for many years that followed.

Eventizing the Experience

Give people a reason to come to the store, create events and atmospheres that customers want to experience. Banks are using creative low-tech ways to change the consumer experience. Capital One is creating a network of café style locations to entice their online clients into physical spaces, creating a warmth and openness not usually associated with banks.

By revamping interior design and applying the latest technology to elegant in-store displays, a retailer can really pop the “experience” in shopping experience.

Using Technology to Build Interest

Customers are going to flock to these new integrated smart retail spaces. Using facial recognition, 3d scanning, and augmented reality, new clothing visualizations will be projected on mannequins, allowing the AI to connect the dots of the customers shopping history and clothing preferences while near-field communication follows the customer around the store.

Great opportunity exists in the adoption of new technology, mobile apps, and applying virtual and augmented reality techniques to enhance the customer experience. It is an easy leap to make for retailers to eventize the shopping experience and create enhanced experiences for the IRL customer, like augmented-reality treasure hunts to capture and uncover values and discounts. I am looking forward to the gamification aspects of augmented reality, where instead of hunting and capturing Pokemon characters the customers will track and hunt coupons, sales and bonuses. (link to iButterfly video)

“Don’t wait for the coupons to print at check out, find and catch the elusive 50% off coupon just spotted in the bedding department!”

Augmented reality can be great fun in providing scavenger hunt actives to entice participation and generate buzz from you customers.

Using the latest 3D projection technology, the experience will expand to include to allow for virtual trials of everything from sunglasses and clothing to jewelry and accessories. It might even provide a glimpse of how you would look sitting on that brand new motorcycle.

Retail stores can also implement facial recognition software to identify loyal customers, reward generous buyers, and personalize messaging in the same way cookies can identify online customers. Gone will be the need for customers to register for price-saver clubs.

New retail models can arise from these new technologies and create innovative ways to connect with consumers and capture value.

Overall it will be creative thinking, unique events and experience that will help retailers stay afloat and keep customers coming into the store.

Ultimately, the physical brick and mortar store will be able to thrive by reaching its community and providing a tactile living breathing experience--a sumptuous, visceral event that will transcend the boring and live long in the customer's memory.
Of course this rethink now needs a rethink but the pillars of community engagement, servicing local needs, and leveraging the latest technology will still be the foundation on which your business success will be built.