There have already been nearly 5,000 retail store closings in the U.S. in 2019, including Gap, Tesla, Victoria’s Secret and the discount chain Fred’s, according to some recent reports. CNBC stated that as store closures accelerate, the total may top 12,000 in 2019, and gave the shock announcement that after Barneys had filed for bankruptcy, the retailer has until Oct. 24 to find a buyer or face liquidation.
What is happening and what can redeem retail?
The Internet and e-Commerce clearly has had a huge impact on consumer shopping habits and their relationships with brands. The ability to buy, and just as easily return, alters the relationship that was once more entrenched by visits in store.
All of this has created an unease and negativity around retail and brick-and-mortar stores. However, perhaps it is just further evidence that retail is, and should be, evolving.
Before online shopping became so omnipotent, the regular High Street department store relied and flourished on basic principles of choice, value, convenience and efficient customer service. E-Commerce then arrived and blew this idea out of the water. They competed aggressively on choice, value, convenience and efficiency.
What can retailers do about this challenge that is threatening U.S. retail at a fast rate?
What seems to be separating those brands that are managing to stay relevant is a willingness to enrich and evolve the physical experience of their brand, through “experiential retail” approaches. The experiential retail movement might be thought of as a new wave of innovative experimentation by retailers that takes their brick-and-mortar stores beyond being merely a point of transaction. Through experiential approaches, traditional shops are being reconceptualized as hubs for immersive experiences, meeting places for vibrant communities, and even unique event spaces.
As if to underpin the above evidence that despite the remarkable rise of e-Commerce, consumers actually crave sensory-rich physical shopping experiences, experiential spaces are not only being embraced by pre-Internet established brands. For example, e-Commerce giants such as Amazon, realizing the value of providing tactile “real world” experiences, are heading in the opposite direction with the establishment of brick-and-mortar shops.
In fact, recent research we had commissioned revealed that despite reports of the demise of the High Street, when it comes to fashion and beauty, people still appreciate the tangible experience of in-store above all other channels. The store is 60% more popular for fashion shoppers when discovering a new product than the next best discovery channel, and 37% more popular for beauty shoppers, according to the survey.
Some impressive recent examples reflecting this trend include Samsung which is opening three experience stores in Los Angeles, Long Island and Houston, enabling customers to personally experience the technology. Casper launched in-store sleeping nooks to offer customers the complete physical experience in their “Dreamery” in a central NYC location. And Nike has an entire basketball court where customers can try their shoes in NYC, while in Los Angeles, Nike’s members-only store concept with its in-store physical experience has been a huge success.
Many further examples reflecting this trend include Adidas’s Fifth Avenue store in New York, Lululemon’s NYC store, Nike’s Interactive Lockers in Melrose in LA and L’Occitane’s unique flagship store in Manhattan.
The emergence of experiential retail highlights how the High Street has kept in touch with the impact of e-Commerce. The above examples show that in the digital age, those prospering on the High Street are the ones brave enough to think outside the conventional box. Brands are learning to provide engaging, immersive experiences that incentivize customers to head into a store. There they will offer human-centred interaction, value exchange and fun — and a reason to return.
Courtney Wylie is VP of Product and Marketing at tech start up and referral marketing platform Mention Me. Wylie heads up the marketing and PR teams, product development and design and UX function, whilst also sitting on the Senior Management team. Wylie has more than 20 years of experience working for online businesses across marketing, product marketing and product development, from small startups right through to complex international organisations. Bringing great products to market in a successful way is what inspires and drives her.