Editor’s note: This post was originally published on TotalRetail on April 26, 2016.
At the start of 2016, Wal-Mart, the world’s largest company by revenue, announced that it would close 269 locations around the world. Macy’s also plans to close 40 stores this year.
In part, industry analysts blame closures like these on what they see as a larger retail shift toward online shopping. And with the growing number and array of online stores, we too wondered whether the age of the brick-and-mortar was dead.
But if that’s truly the case, why are other brands seemingly bucking the trend by expanding their brick-and-mortar presence? Case in point, Amazon.com, the country’s largest internet-based retailer, opened its first physical store in late 2015.
Our team at iModerate, a progressive insights firm, talked to more than 800 consumers and conducted 82 in-depth conversations with consumers ranging in age from 15 to over 65 to learn if they’re still counting on physical retail stores, and what retailers can do to keep them coming back. (You can download the full report here)
Done Right, Stores Still Matter
Our research showed that 74 percent of consumers still believe it’s important for a brand to have a physical store presence – a sentiment that’s surprisingly higher among Generation Z and millennials (80 percent and 82 percent, respectively). But why do stores matter across generations, and in particular, to younger shoppers? What steps can retailers take to capitalize on the aspects that appeal most to consumers? Here are a few tips:
Use experiences to build trust, drive purchases. Consumers told us they find reassurance in touching, feeling and trying on items such as clothing, cosmetics and shoes before they buy. Familiarity with a brand’s fit and styles may result in future online purchases, but the first in-store impression of the brand is essential for building loyalty. Even if you’re not in the clothing or cosmetics business, you can still deliver a meaningful trial experience by encouraging and enabling physical interaction with products to give consumers the confidence to buy. This might include free samples, demonstrations or other interactive experiences.
Have employees get personal. Store employees are still one of the most influential touchpoints in driving purchases and building brand loyalty. Consumers overwhelming agree it’s imperative for employees to know their products and make personalized recommendations without pressuring them to buy. Resources should properly be invested to hire and continuously train the right type of in-store staff on product selection, store layout and products themselves. Little gestures such as walking the person to find a product can also help shoppers feel like a trusted friend and engender loyalty.
Deliver a consistent and elevated experience. There are two major experience areas for retailers to concentrate on – make sure it’s consistent and uncomplicated to meet the day-to-day needs of busy millennials with young families, and continue the role of the retail store as a destination, which remains a priority across all generations.
Retail stores can achieve both goals. For one, retailers should deliver reliable conveniences across locations – e.g., a consistent store layout, and maintaining well-lit, well-stocked aisles to enable a frictionless experience when the priority is a quick in-and-out trip.
At the same time, stores that really embrace the experience continue to be a place for inspiration and imagination, enabling shoppers to escape and wander or simply socialize. Stores need to consistently captivate and delight shoppers by delivering true brand experiences, not just transactions. This might include free Wi-Fi, phone charging and in-store features such as a coffee bar or dedicated kid-friendly area.
When done right, the in-store experience delivers the full brand promise and drives purchase confidence in a way that is simply unparalleled online, making physical retail locations a rewarding destination for shoppers that go far beyond a one-off purchase.