We constantly hear that the future of retail lies online – but does it really? That’s the question many retailers have been left to ponder over as, while the business of online shopping is booming, a strong case still exists for bricks and mortar stores. For this reason, most retailers offer both online and in-store experiences to their customers, with an increasing number choosing to focus on their physical, rather than virtual, offerings in order to align with a new wave of consumers who seek out ‘experience culture’ and genuine, human interaction.
Last month, Jamie Allan, Group Managing Partner at Intermarketing Agency, told The Drum that, in the UK, “90% of sales are still done in bricks and mortar.” Allan also remarked that brands who choose not to invest in their own retail spaces are putting a lot at risk. Brands like Nasty Gal and Birchbox, which both began online, have added bricks-and-mortar stores to their offerings in recent years. Both brands have thriving e-commerce outputs and, given their young, female, social-media driven target audiences, are in good stead to continue to succeed in the digital sphere, so why did these successful brands feel the need to venture further into the ‘real world’? It’s mainly down to the increased levels of customer engagement, loyalty and satisfaction that go hand-in-hand with attractive in-store experiences. As Hudson’s Bay CEO Jerry Storch says: “People don’t dislike bricks-and-mortar retail, they dislike bad bricks-and-mortar retail. They love experiences.”
A key player in retail’s new experience culture is high-end multi-brand activewear retailer Bandier. Founded by former music executive Jennifer Bandier two years ago, Bandier has already become an eminent name not only in the sportswear sector, but in the world of retail as a whole. Bandier currently has five successful retail destinations in America, which all boast a huge range of activewear brands and a variety of Bandier-exclusive products (think limited runs from Nike, Adidas and Under Armour, and design collabs with brands like Cushnie et Ochs) but, besides the fitness gear and apparel, they’re anything but your typical bricks-and-mortar store. ‘Multi-concept’ is the best way to describe Bandier’s approach to having a physical retail presence: fitness studios, yoga classes, dance classes, events stages, juice bars, coffee shops and luxury lounges are just some of the offerings spread across Bandier’s stores. By looking beyond the traditional retail store model, Bandier’s approach is to foster a community spirit and therefore generate loyalty and a rapport between the brand and the consumer.
Little extras aside, Bandier still fundamentally focuses on its key area of expertise: sportswear. Its sales associates all have some form of sporting background, so they can offer genuine advice to customers, and the company understands that, in real life, sportswear shoppers aren’t dressing head-to-toe in one brand. “At Bandier, you can walk into a dressing room with ten different brands and learn about performance capabilities, technology, fabrics and fit,” Neil Boyarsky, Jennifer Bandier’s husband and business partner, told Forbes.
Bandier isn’t alone in its multi-use approach to bricks and mortar, creating communities by encouraging customers to spend time, not just money, in their stores. LA’s Free City Supershop and Berlin’s The Store are prime examples, with the latter offering everything for sale. Nestled below Berlin’s private club Soho House, The Store is popular with tourists and local hipsters alike – there is an undeniable appeal to having a haircut, a coffee date and some delicious organic nibbles before browsing rails of Jil Sander and Ann Demeulemeester.
But what of non-specialist, mass-market retailers that will never deviate too far from the traditional bricks-and-mortar template? Fast fashion retailers need to consider how to bring people into their stores – and arguably theirs is a harder battle than luxury retailers’, due to an influx of competition. Earlier this month River Island unveiled new offices in Shoreditch to house exclusively its digital team, which served as a marker of the high street giant’s determination to push technology into its core. While one might see this as a sign of an increased online presence for the brand (and it definitely is), it’s not that clear cut, as River Island’s CIO Doug Gardner has spoken of plans to bring more technology in-store. The first step is to launch more flagship stores, which Gardner sees as crucial to “what River Island is all about.” Speaking to Oracle, he said, “Walking into a store, touching and feeling it, and seeing all the other things that go around to support the River Island brand – you can’t reproduce that online.”
For River Island – and indeed other high street fashion destinations – technology doesn’t necessarily have to be brand new or unique. Gardner cites click-and-collect as a key omnichannel investment; when the company launched its click-and-collect service it “saw a dramatic uptick in revenue [as] customers were able to get what wasn’t on the shop floor in a very convenient way.” And, of course, in order to keep customers happy it is important for River Island to keep its staff happy – and well-informed. As well as stepping up its standard of customer-facing technology in-store, the retailer has begun to roll out Android devices for staff use, containing River Island apps and a new store system that will help with customer engagement. Gardner told Essential Retailthat, ideally, encouraging his staff to use technology on the shop floor will mean the end of “the days the customer comes into our store with a mobile phone and has more information than our store staff.” Knowledge is power, after all.
Reported by Grace Howard
Image Source: Jill & Joy