There are dueling schools of thought about what the full extent of the Amazon Effect will be on brick-and-mortar retail. One Forbes writer concludes that the Amazon Effect is shutting down shops and shrinking retail real estate. Looking at the numbers of store closures, it’s hard to pretend that in-store retail isn't facing some challenges.
Yet another Forbes writer asks “Is the Amazon Effect Overrated?” Forbes contributor Steve Olenski recently spoke with CMOs at the Global Retail Marketing Association’s 2017 Executive Leadership Forum, where he found CMOs a bit more sanguine. Olenski writes that the CMOs he spoke with at the Forum told him “that Amazon can never duplicate one of the biggest things brick-and-mortars have going for them: the in-store experience. To a person they all believe that there's nothing that can substitute for that real life, person-to-person exchange.”
For many consumers today, shopping is less about the art of the deal as it is about the feel of the experience. E-commerce makes it easy to buy virtually anything from a shopper’s choice of retailers online. In-store experiences are growing as the key differentiator and opportunity for retailers to add value to the buyer’s purchase.
The in-store experience dimension is true for tactile industries such as fashion. Look at men’s fashion retailer Bonobos, which started online and now has 22 physical stores with plans to open more. The Bonobos buyer still buys online, but he buys online in the store after intense, personal attention (and a beer) provided by a Bonobos sales associates. Bonobos chief merchandising officer Brad Andrews told Business of Fashion that in-store consumers "spend more on average than our direct online customers, they repeat faster and they return less product." Those are words any merchandising officer would like to be able to say.
But the unique value that a fabulous in-store experience can provide also holds true for commodity stores, such as grocery stores. Eataly seeks to create a modern, urban version of shopping through an Italian village. The in-store restaurants and cafes provide reasons for shoppers to spend a lot of time and money in the upscale grocery store. Stores run events from hands-on cooking classes to tastings to behind-the-scene peeks in their own kitchens. And like Bonobos, they do it with a highly-trained staff who can provide expertise and personal service.
Wherefore, In-Store Experience?
As with many changes we’re seeing in business, Millennials are key drivers in the demand for memorable in-store experiences because they want to do just that: memorialize their experience. Life is no longer simply lived — it must be documented and shared. The simple selfie is so 2015. Now images and video, including live streaming what you’re doing right now, are the hottest social media currency, which makes them retail currency too.
Marketing has always been about validating buyers’ self-perceptions of who they aspire to be. Social media now gives consumers the chance to show everyone else that they’re living awesome lives. It’s not just retailers who need to publish a constant stream of online content. Shoppers do too. Retailers providing an in-store experience that lets them express these self-perceptions will attract in-store shoppers, regardless of what items are available online.
3 Types of Memorable In-Store Experiences
Retailers have several ways to create memorable in-store experiences, none of which are mutually exclusive.
Retail + entertainment = making the retail store a destination shop, not a utilitarian errand. Retailtainment experiences give people reasons to come into the store even when they have nothing specific in mind to buy. Eataly’s classes and events are one example. Bass Pro Shops do a great job of this with their crafts tables for kids, live animal displays, rock climbing walls, and archery lanes.
Gamification is another form of retailtainment. Bloomingdales recently used a combination of in-store beacons and Snapchat geofilters to keep shoppers moving through every corner of the large department store looking to capture new Snapchat filters. Retailtainment also includes transparency opportunities. Authenticity is an important value for today’s shoppers. Being able to peek behind the curtain to see how the buy gets made can be an interesting and attractive draw. Starbucks takes this route with its limited Reserve Roastery and Tasting Room shops, which the chain estimates to do twice as much in sales as the standard Starbucks.
Concierge/Personal Shopper Services
This is where Bonobos shines. It requests shoppers schedule a one-hour appointment before they come in. At the same time, this keeps the number of shoppers in the store down, leaving a nearly one-to-one shopper/associate experience. It also allows sales associates to plan for a shopper’s visit, making the experience more personal and efficient – efficiency being a main priority of their target market. Nordstrom uses mobile devices that connect associates to back-end sales and shopping data to provide the most relevant and personalized recommendations to shoppers. Sephora associates can use a special Pantone device to color code a shopper’s skin tone, which the shopper can then use at any Sephora kiosk to get personalized, specific makeup recommendations that will best match them.
Closely related to providing personalized shopping experiences, an omnichannel experience erases the barrier between instore and online so shoppers can continue their digital shopping in the store. The broadest omnichannel experience also gives consumers new digital tools to assist them shop while in store. Crate + Barrel has been experimenting with providing shoppers with a “Mobile Tote” where they can scan barcodes to get more detailed product information and create a digitally-stored wish list while having the chance to examine the real-world product. Other retailers are using motion-sensors to share more information about products that a shopper picks up and to collect data about how that shopper interacts with the product. The recorded customer's shopping behavior can then be used by remarketing automation as well as sales associates to customize their next shopping experience.
Experience as Currency Triples Your Brand's Value
A quality in-store experience actually provides triple value. It’s currency that adds value to the shopper’s experience, and it’s also currency that shopper can now pass around to others. In an earlier time, customers walking around with bags emblazoned with the Gucci or Louis Vuitton logo were the ultimate in shopper-subsidized advertising. Now with shoppers sharing their experiences, not just their purchases online, there’s a whole new world of shopper-subsidized advertising available. Since it’s promotion coming directly from consumers to their personal networks of people who know and trust them, it’s some of the most impactful brand advertising a retailer could hope for.
You can learn more about how to create the ideal in-store experience for your shoppers here.