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Will we want to return to physical stores?

By Clotilde Gros
15 March 2021

By Clotilde Gros

Weather has the biggest influence on consumer behaviour after the economy, according to the British Retail Consortium. It affects consumers’ emotional state, drives their purchase decisions, and dictates how much they are willing to spend. Spring is upon us, the sun is shining (albeit not today) and I want to go shopping. 

Retail has always been about having the best shopping experience for the customer, and the best experience one can have at the moment is shopping online. The convenience of shopping on our phones while having the TV on in the background is priceless – and that is all we have known for the last 12 months or so. The shift to the convenience of online shopping, combined with the experience of shopping on high streets, raises questions about the future of retail not just in the UK but globally. In just under four weeks today, non-essential stores will be reopening, but will we want to return to physical stores?

The high street and shopping centres may not be those that we remembered. Some brands will have sadly disappeared, others will simply move to an online only offer. Those who have survived these last few months will have to cleverly think about ways that they can attract this much needed footfall and conversion rates. And what better way to achieve that than ‘experiential retail’. I remember talking to a retail CEO saying that to attract the right customers in its stores they wanted to launch Champagne bars, yoga studios and nail salons, making their store a destination. Experiential retail has been around for a long time perhaps one could even argue that was the role of the department store.  Customers have witnessed a wide range of additional retail emerge in stores over the last decade from plants and gardening to sushi bars. But suddenly brands are actively communicating the changes they are undergoing to attract shoppers who quite frankly don’t really see the benefits of coming to a physical store again. It feels like if you are a more ‘traditional’ bricks and mortar store, you have no other option but to review your business model, perhaps offering new services, because of what the world has gone through over the last 12 months.

Time is running out, with under four weeks to go, marketing and communications teams are running around pushing forward ideas to welcome back customers. Asda is considering cutting down its grocery space to bring in nail salons and cafes. John Lewis will open pop-up stores in Waitrose to drive cross-selling opportunities. Tonal, maker of a wall-mounted home gym, recently announced a partnership with Nordstrom. Other brands are considering clever marketing tools or simply ensuring their visual Merchandising (VM) is focused on the interactions and relationships with customers.

Experts believe that experiential retail is the future, and I agree. It is increasingly important to providing experiences in stores (and online!) that help customers build a genuine connection with a brand which, in turn, helps to boost customer loyalty and support retention. Needless to say, I am very excited about walking into a store in April, but I am even more excited to see how creative brands will be to lure back customers to stores. And if the appeal isn’t there, we can always go home and use our phones.