The Chief Executive of the BRC, Helen Dickinson, recently stated, “The retail industry is undergoing a profound change” in response to industry employment figures. The stats reveal an estimated 70,000 jobs were lost last year due to a slowdown in consumer spending and the increasing cost of running a retail business.
Of course, it can’t be ignored that 2018 was a challenging year for the high street. However, it’s simply not true that selling online is the only way to win in retail today. In fact, the in-store experience should not be neglected. According to the Office of National Statistics, despite the rapid growth of e-commerce, in-store purchases still account for nearly 82% of sales. Amidst fierce competition, brands will need to transform their retail experiences in order to stay competitive.
The Experiential, Destination Store
A few select retailers and brands are already gaining real traction when it comes to transforming the retail experience they offer. Experiential retail provides shoppers something unique and immersive, driving sales but also strengthening brand loyalty and affiliation.
Practically, for retailers, this means thinking about how the store can evolve from shelves and labels to become a destination. For example, Sainsbury’s has established a new “experimental” superstore concept at Selly Oak. The 67,000 square foot store is a pilot for a new format of hybrid supermarket department store. It has a food court, the retailer’s first Oasis concession, a revamped beauty and fragrance section and fully integrated Habitat and Argos stores.
The Google Curiosity store at Piccadilly is another example. It opened for five weeks to offer workshops, talks, podcasts, food and music to promote the Google Pixel 3. Customers could use Google Lens in the Google Lens Laundrette and get the perfect Group Selfie at the All-in Auto Wash.
These in-store experiences are now differentiating brands who may have previously been judged on price alone.
If your store can’t be found, is it even open?
Retailers also must recognize the importance of connecting the in-store experience with digital channels to market physical stores more effectively and link the online to the offline.
Brick-and-mortar retailers can optimize their digital presence to rank for unbranded searches such as ‘clothing store near me’ or for specific products they sell such as ‘adidas trainers’. This connected approach is critical as people change how they search for products on the high street. Consumers are increasingly researching items on their mobile before they buy in-store. They want to know where they can find items, whether the shop is open, and how to get there by asking for directions.
Google is also seeing a huge increase in ‘near me’ searches. In fact ‘near me’ searches that include a variant of ‘can I buy’ or ‘to buy’ rose by 500% between 2015 and 2017. There has also been a 200% increase of searches for ‘near me’, ‘now’ and ‘open’ over the past two years. This presents a fantastic opportunity for the high street to capture customers at moments of intent to purchase and drive sales based on the convenience of their locations.
Transcending Online and Offline
To capitalize on this, more retailers are focusing on discoverability and real-time interaction to join digital marketing with physical shopping touchpoints. The development of conversational technologies, such as AI-powered chatbots and digital assistants, fundamentally changes how consumers engage with brands.
Voice search is on the rise. Half of all searches will be voice searches by 2020 according to Comscore. And it’s not just digital natives. In fact, Deloitte shows over 60% of the 45+ years old used their voice assistant speaker on the previous day. Voice search provides only one answer. This gives retailers an opportunity to increase visits by providing information via Amazon Alexa or Google Home.
The immediacy of the information provided by voice search has also driven a change in how people expect to find facts on the web. Rather than consumers searching page by page on a retailers’ website, they expect to be able to discover the answers to their questions without leaving Google, Facebook, or Instagram or even Snapchat or WhatsApp Messenger. Retailers need to provide data on shop locations, opening hours, products and customer reviews on these platforms so the experience is fast and seamless.
Ultimately, experiential initiatives designed to drive customer footfall and consequently, improve the customer journey and in-store experience have revealed a path to success in 2019. Retailers must use technology to drive discoverability on the high street. Online should be viewed as a critical extension of the shop window. When retailers have control over brand experiences across maps, apps, search engines and voice assistants, they can drive consumer discovery, decision and action, all of which ultimately enhance visits to physical locations.