In-Store Value and Online Convenience: What Retail Designers Can Learn from the Rise of E-Commerce
Written by Ashley Craig
The rise of e-commerce has caused brick-and-mortar stores to sound their alarms in fear of losing relevance. It certainly didn't help that veteran retailers like Toys "R" Us, Payless, and Poundworld have all filed for bankruptcy, sending other brands into a premature state of mourning. However, look beyond the fear-mongering storylines and you'll see that physical stores aren't actually dying — they're simply evolving. It's those who refuse to join the digital renaissance that are being left behind.
Forbes reveals that online sales only make up for 8.1% of total retail sales¹ in America, which means most customers are still doing their shopping in real life. This allows brick-and-mortar stores to maintain their grip on the market. Currently, however, only 28% of small businesses are leveraging online selling, which means many are missing out on the opportunity to reach a wider market and rake internet sales.
To maintain their edge, brands must learn to get comfortable with digital, but still draw from brick-and-mortar's brawn. But how is a business supposed to do that without getting lost in virtual white noise?
Give customers a reason to go offline
Though inarguably more convenient, there are downsides to online shopping, like shipping fees, tax, and waiting times. Physical stores can play to their strengths by providing benefits that customers can only get in-store, such as discounts, special promos, or even lowered pricing.
Medly Pharmacy² is a pharmaceutical start-up combining the most tedious aspects of prescription management and repackaging them into a solution that customers can enjoy. The concept makes use of an app and a boutique drugstore that complement each other. Going mobile allows users to fill prescriptions without leaving home. But their physical touchpoint enables them to book face-to-face-consultations with pharmacists in a modern, comfortable space that puts emphasis on design and community — a far cry from busy and sometimes intimidating layouts of drugstores.
Put customers at the centre
Even the most technologically innovative companies like Amazon know that customer service is the heart of every good business. One of Amazon's most interesting ventures is their recently launched bookstore³, especially at a time when bookstores are closing shop left and right. Unlike traditional bookstores, Amazon combines ratings, pre-orders, and customer popularity to create their highly curated selection. Under each book are real user reviews pulled from their website — typos included. This provides a more organic alternative to inauthentic sales talks, and a better way for customers to gauge the product's value based on real people's insights... almost like getting recommendations from a trusted friend.
Build that irreplaceable social experience
You might have all the Artificial Intelligence (AI) technology at your store⁴, but it can never really measure up to good old-fashioned conversation. Humans are naturally social creatures. In retail, staff aren't just people to help check stock or track inventory — they act as the ultimate brand extension.
Walk into any Sephora or make-up store and chances are, you'll see sales representatives and customers bonding over favourite products and personal recommendations. Because they know each product like the back of their hand, representatives know exactly how best to sell it and to whom. This surely beats talking with a chat bot.
Leverage physical spaces to immerse customers
The beauty of a physical space is having the chance to fully immerse customers in your brand in ways a screen could never do. Going back to cosmetic retailers, nothing beats the experience of going to a store to try the make-up out for yourself, especially when products are expensive and not worth the shade gamble. Glossier, for example, is a beauty brand that started out online but has since branched out to physical stores all around the US and London.
Since its debut, Glossier has garnered a cult following and established such a rock solid identity — to the point where they might as well have trademarked the Millennial pink colour. Unsurprisingly, Glossier's physical store is a complete reflection of that⁵ — from the walls that are bathed in pastel, to the staff wearing matching pink jumpsuits. Everything about it is just begging to be snapped and posted on Instagram — a strategy that has proven quite effective⁶.
Similarly, brands can leverage the store experience by building on causes and values that customers care about. Just like Glossier's market and their passion for pink, other stores are preaching advocacies such as sustainability, which Pretty Me highlights as a hot issue⁷. Millennials, in particular, care about ethical practices and environment-friendliness more than ever. Brands such as H&M are listening: it has since offered exclusive discounts to people who come to the store and donate old clothes to be recycled. This, of course, is not only good for the world in general, but business as well.⁸