The answer is no. But retailers must adapt to industry trends and take retail in new, customer-centric directions
“Not yet,” says Steve Lister, Head of Retail Performance at KMMS. “Physical retail is harder than ever before but it’s certainly not dead. It just needs to adapt.”
The dead or doomed are the retailers that won’t accept that the power has shifted to the customer. “People can shop anywhere now, at any time, and if they don’t get a positive experience, they can buy somewhere else very easily,” says Steve.
Retailers need to embrace the “just looking” mentality and accept that people will spend most of their money online. “Showrooming” shouldn’t be fought with cold looks and internet blockers. It should nurtured, with great customer service and exciting in-store experiences that cross physical and digital.
“Everyone talks about making online and offline worlds seamless. But both need to be brilliant in their own right – and they must complement one another,” says Steve. “It’s just sales basics.”
Let’s take a look at some of the brands reimagining bricks-and-mortar retail…
Amazon Go in Seattle
The first Amazon Go convenience store opened this year. The concept is all about no queues, no cashiers and no waiting. You simply swipe the Amazon Go app as you enter; fill your pockets or bags – and go!
The ‘Just walk out’ technology, which relies on cameras and other sensors to track your every move, automatically detects when things are taken from or returned to the shelves, and adds them to your virtual cart. When you’re done, you just walk out and your Amazon account gets billed.
This frictionless concept might be the future of the convenience store.
Zara at Westfield Stratford City
In May this year, Zara opened a super-high-tech store that integrates online and in-store shopping.
It has two automated collection points, capable of handling 2,400 online orders simultaneously. You simply scan the QR or PIN code in your email receipt, and a robotic arm delivers your package in seconds.
In the changing rooms, the clever RFID-mirrors suggest complementary garments to the ones you’re trying on. And, in addition to the usual cashier desks, you can either pay staff holding iPads from your mobile or use the self-checkouts that automatically identify what you’re buying.
Missguided at Westfield Stratford City
Most stores expand from bricks-and-mortar to digital. But some online retailers, like Missguided, are moving in the other direction. Missguided’s first-ever physical store opened in 2016 at Westfield Stratford City and another followed in Kent, after the brand tested the physical world with low-risk pop-ups.
Designed by Dalziel & Pow, the store is anything but boring. Bold lighting, stand-out permanent fixtures, seasonal installations, floor-to-ceiling digital screens and mannequins – which feature stretch marks, freckles and vitiligo – create a completely immersive brand experience.
There’s also plenty of ‘Instagrammable’ moments to reinforce the #BabesOfMissguided movement aimed at social-media-obsessed millennials.
Unsurprisingly, Apple, takes an innovative and forward-looking approach to retail. It’s turned its shops into places to learn and have meaningful experiences, rather than places just to buy.
Walk into any Apple and you’ll be greeted with a friendly person, technically trained to be of real help. There are a limited number of products available and no tills, so you pay face-to-face with a wandering staff member clutching an iPad.
The stores allow you to do everything you can’t do online – build relationships, get support, solve problems and upsell.
The revival of Lego has been hailed as one of the greatest turnarounds in corporate history. It went from near-certain death in 2003 to the world’s most powerful brand in 2015. Beyond focusing on its core product – its physical plastic bricks – and taking some major strategic decisions, it’s since turned its stores into LEGO-themed playgrounds.
The stores offer exciting in-store “phygital” experiences for adults and children alike – from miniature versions of the same attractions you’d find at its amusement parks to a digital photo booth that creates a Lego mosaic of your face.
There’s plenty more online too. Lego Boost brings designs to life through child-friendly, app-based coding, while the Instagram-style app, Lego Life, lets them share their creations with the world.
Lush’s first-ever “naked” store in Milan
Lush is famous for its sensory stores. The fragrant products, live-demonstrations, behind-the-scenes looks and on-hand expertise all make the in-store experience memorable. But they’re also becoming increasingly digitalised.
Not only do you now pay a wandering staff member with an Android-powered tablet, you can also use the new Lush Lens app in Milan to scan products for more information, despite them having no packaging. The brand will also soon release Lush Concierge, a virtual assistant and voice-search tool for both customers and staff.
Dyson on Oxford Street
Dyson opened its first British store in 2016, with a UK Dyson Demo experience inside. The tech wonderland lets you get hands-on with the products, discover more about the top-secret engineering labs and receive expert product advice.
The store is also brought to life by a fully functioning hair salon to show off its Supersonic hairdryer, helping to justify the £299.99 price tag.
Always at the forefront of innovation, it is no surprise that Dyson’s shop gives customers a high-tech and hands-on brand experience.
“These are all great examples of brands seeing how physical retail has changed, and adapting to it,” says Steve. “The opportunity to succeed is still there – it’s about understanding the landscape and being simultaneously analytical and creative to explore different ways of engaging the customer.”