We’ve had the past couple of months to adapt to new norms, particularly in the retail and hospitality space. As London’s lockdown 2.0 is coming to an end, what can be expected of the future of retail? More so than before, retailers are expected to quickly adapt and find ways to either change the entire physical retail experience or to digitalise. Have we reached a point of no return for retail as we’ve known it?
Frustratingly, for the consumer and retailer alike, rules and regulations are subject to frequent change. So, as confirmed through a study conducted with our network, organisations have placed an overwhelming focus on short term goals and are looking to launch new products and revenue streams over the course of the year.
Prior to the pandemic, we’d already seen a shift from physical brick and mortar stores to online channels. We’ve worked on a number of challenges that aim to increase consumer touch points (online and offline) and create seamless online shopping experiences. With the pandemic, these efforts are likely to be accelerated to address limited human contact. Perhaps smart vending solutions (i.e. Aeguana) will be the way forward, or maybe brands will look to make all their marketable content shoppable via the likes of tech companies such as Adimo. In any case, to ward off the decline of physical retailers in general, stores will need to adopt an omni-channel strategy, weigh up their options and look at offering and/or bolstering their online platforms.
But what does the future of retail look like? Are we to do away with physical stores forever? Has the pandemic cemented the age of digitisation and completely taken over our shopping experiences? Well, should physical retail stores prevail, companies will need to address how to not only create a safe space for employees and customers, but to also implement a way to deal with future crises, and how to make the ‘new’ post-COVID shopping experience just as engaging, if not more.
Communication, therefore, has never been more important. The pandemic has caused immense disruption to the way retailers and brands interact with their consumers. Forbes predicts that we will see more built-in distancing, autonomous stores, and product placement for speed and so forth. While checking off sanitation requirements to ensure safety can somewhat reduce ambivalence towards shopping in-store, it will most likely not be enough.
With limitations to physical touch points and less time in store, brands and physical retailers will need to entice their consumers by creating an experience. Perhaps, even going a step further and creating an experience that can tie into e-commerce as needed. Brands could perhaps consider how to transform physical spaces to be more than just a shop but rather a destination.
A classic example of this is IKEA with their showrooms. We’ve also seen this model brilliantly executed in the form of pop-ups from large corporates, such as Unilever with Magnum’s ‘Ruby Room’ in London’s Southbank to mark the launch of their new ice-cream, and exclusively online retailers such as cosmetics brands Glossier, who has forayed into physical retail with their highly engaging Covent Garden store. High-end retailer, Dover Street Market is another great example of a retail destination that also functions somewhat as a design and fashion ‘wonderland’. These destinations enable brands to keep the intrigue and engagement of consumers, offering them much more than just a store.
Ultimately, in order for retail to survive and thrive, creating digital experiences alongside a retail ‘destination’ will enable brands to tie in an e-commerce element to their stores, creating the best of both worlds. This can be done best by leveraging experiential retail, collaborating with startups and adopting tech that can augment physical content (magazine, posters, etc.) to make them shoppable, and creating new consumer touchpoints. If brands and retailers adopt an omni-channel strategy that enhances and creates synergies between their offline and online presence then the death of physical retail could very well be averted.