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What’s Next for Brick-and-Mortar Retailers

Kyle Rall

Kyle Rall

It’s been a rough couple of years for traditional retail. Companies like Amazon have upended the retail structure, and as consumers continue to turn to e-commerce, brick-and-mortar retailers must adapt to survive.

To do so, many companies are turning to hot-button tactics like virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR), simple or even nonexistent payment tactics (hello ApplePay and Amazon Go), and more. However, these strategies are more aspirational than practical, as they require heavy infusions of capital, huge upgrades to existing infrastructure and widespread consumer adoption to be successful.

While retailers work to make these long-term dreams a reality, there are several trends brick-and-mortar retailers can pursue to stay relevant and competitive in the more immediate future:

  1. A focus on stores as showrooms.  As the purchase process continues to migrate online, we’re seeing brick-and-mortar stores used as a way for consumers to feel and see products before they pull out their phones and make a purchase. This approach works best for categories like furniture, where people are traditionally hesitant to purchase without physically interacting with products. Examples of this strategy include Apple stores, which focus more on showcasing products and what they can do, or Bonobos’ guideshops, which exist purely as a way for consumers to interact with the web retailers’ goods (you can’t even walk away with any merchandise, but you can order clothing).
  2. In-store tech that blurs the digital and physical line.  For consumers of all ages, but especially the younger generation, e-commerce offers a way to purchase products through an experience and medium they are intimately familiar with. When this group visits physical stores, pushy sales associates and non-intuitive store layouts can turn them away. New trends like touchscreen kiosks and the ability to track product availability from a smartphone are an easy way to engage this group using the channels they prefer. In fact, according to the Walker Sands 2016 Future of Retail study, seven in 10 consumers would be willing to opt into in-store tracking and mobile push notifications if they were properly incentivized by retailers.
  3. The First Steps of AR and VR.  While every company can’t be like Wayfair, which has a full app dedicated to layering products into a physical space, retailers do have some easier options when it comes to AR and VR that require less investment. Google’s Tango project (which overlays digital objects onto the real world through a compatible device) is a great first step for retailers that want to integrate this futuristic tech into their initial strategy, as it doesn’t require expensive headsets or a bespoke software buildout.

The key here is to offer additional value beyond the in-store experience. For example, letting consumers virtually paint a room is a great application for a paint company or hardware store, as this technology enables a new and unique capability. This technology also integrates with the devices consumers already have, which allows retailers to meet consumers where they are currently engaged.

man wearing VR headset

Moving Forward

As e-commerce continues to take a larger piece of the retail pie, brick-and-mortar retailers must evolve. However, because customers will continue to want to see and touch goods before they make purchase decisions, this space isn’t destined for obsolescence.

To thrive in the new retail equation, brands are making the in-store experience more experiential and engaging in the short-term, integrating technology that meets customers in the middle. Long-term, these retailers and beginning to incorporate next-generation tactics like AR and VR into their existing strategies in practical ways.

And we’re here for it all. By staying up to date on the retail industry, we’re well-positioned to serve our clients with the most relevant and engaging content and strategies. The retail industry is constantly evolving, but keeping up on trends –  both immediate and far off –  is just part of the job. And, as consumers ourselves, it’s half the fun.