Far From Dead: The Future of Stores In The Digital World

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By Kevin Gill, UK CEO, Start Group

With consumers obsessed with getting everything sooner and more effortlessly, there’s no denying that buying from brands today has become a digital conveyor belt. Whilst a desire for increased convenience is nothing new, their access to technology only exacerbates shoppers’ need for speed. ‘Fast shopping’ now happens almost exclusively online, begging the question: do retailers really need physical stores anymore? 

  • New retail is slow retail. Brands need to take back control of their store experience, creating destinations for education, enjoyment and trial.
  • Brands fail their bottom line by not optimising stores to reconnect with consumers and differentiate against competition.
  • Retail innovation is an iterative process. Technology should be used relevantly to deliver more information in more interesting ways.

According to The British Retail Consortium, many argue “no”. But Start Group knows the answer is unquestionably “yes” – as long as retailers adopt a slower purpose for their physical stores.

But many stores are yet to drop outdated, convenience-led, business models. They find themselves still racing, often unsuccessfully, to match the convenience of online, or speed-selling via third-party retailers – thereby squandering their ability to control the brand experience – and even discarding the chance to use stores to bridge the online-offline gap. When they fail to give in-store experiences that matter, they therefore fail to connect meaningfully with customers or to innovate for today’s experience economy. The model has to evolve.

A smattering of courageous brands are already experimenting. Instead of becoming slaves to speed, they’re optimising upon the second dominant shopper motivation today: the want for exciting leisure experiences.

Making stores a bona fide day out is now the only way to differentiate and bring customers closer. By prioritising the creation of events that offer education, trial and entertainment, this slower model champions enjoyment over ease, purposefulness over price and great experiences over products. It finally brings stores into line with the needs and wants of today’s most pertinent shoppers (the Millennials), enticing them to spend their most valuable commodity – their time. We’re seeing this play out with new stores from Sephora and adidas, who use Start Group’s Connected Retail Platform (CRP) technology to drive excitement and ease in equal measure.

Sephora Flash, which opened in late 2015, is an advanced case study of how stores can use innovative tech to navigate this  new retail chapter. Despite being one-fifth the size of a traditional Sephora store, Flash is packed with a full stock inventory – 16000 products from over 50 different brands, all available to trial via intelligent touch screens. Convenience is fulfilled as a matter of hygiene via Sephora’s pioneering “Shop+Ship” delivery service, but more weight is given to the talking robots, digital shopping baskets, selfie screens, educational sample counters and an overall experience that’s technologically stimulating. And all the while, CRP is collecting valuable footfall data to inform future customer experiences.

It has become critical for brands to marry the best of online and offline in one digitally-enhanced ecosystem. Brands who don’t look beyond digital signage won’t just miss out on the rewards of improved brand perception, advocacy and increased direct sales, they’ll achieve stand-out for all the wrong reasons – and a spot in the Retail Hall of Failure.

Hear more about the new purpose of stores by downloading Kevin’s ebook Why Good Stores Don’t Sell A Thing here.

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