Welcome to the new world of clicks-and-bricks

There has been a huge evolution in the role of physical retail spaces in recent years. The explosion and exponential growth of online retail – coupled with global availability of product and brands – has seen consumers flooded with options. Gone are the days when shop assistants were considered the experts, trusted by loyal customers for their insight and expertise. Now, customers research for themselves, read reviews online, find discount codes, and shop and ship from anywhere in the world.

It’s no small wonder that most physical retailers are reporting a decline in foot traffic averaging 15 per cent each year. Add to this rising rents and global economic uncertainty, and it’s easy to understand why so many stores are closing. In November, Coresight Research estimated that the number of retail store closures in the US was 9000 – this is nearly 55 per cent higher than the total number for 2018.

But, despite the obvious difficulties that retail stores have found themselves facing, there is still good news. In fact, for those willing to think outside the square and evolve their offerings to respond to the new consumer’s needs, the opportunities are actually very exciting.

The power of experience

One thing that online can never replace is the physical experience of a brand or product – the smell of a perfumed candle which signals luxury as you walk through the doors of the designer boutique, the calming colours and soothing soundtrack as you browse through an earthy homewares store. These in-store sales tools have been used in retail since the beginning of time. And to this day, they can be credited with the fact that, no matter how often they shop online, consumers continue to spend more in physical stores. By capitalising on this strength and curating unique branded experiences, retail stores can not only compete with online – they can thrive.

Clicks-to-bricks

E-commerce and online retailers set out to change the way we shopped. And they did. But now, we’re seeing this come full circle as increasingly “online” brands move into physical stores. This new trend is called clicks-to-bricks and is motivated by brands recognising the need to give consumers more tangible experiences.

But, clicks-to-bricks shops don’t look, feel or act like stores of the past. They’re an evolution that is responding to generation Z, a consumer group that has never known a world without online shopping and yet which craves more connection than ever.

For example, take Casper, a native online mattress shop. Despite its success online, in 2017 Casper began opening physical stores, such as The Dreamery in New York City. Here, curious customers can pay $25 for a 45-minute nap session in a sleeping pod on a Casper mattress, with pyjamas, free snacks, coffee and skincare samples. No mattresses are sold at The Dreamery. Instead, it’s a chance for the brand to engage with customers, bolster their brand image as an expert in all things sleep, and also market its other sleep-related products like pillows, bed linen and dog beds.

Give experiences, not products

One thing we can all learn from the success of these clicks-to-bricks stores is that consumers are looking to buy stories and experiences, as opposed to solely products. By giving the customer value beyond purchase you’ll not only attract new customers, but you’ll build a loyal and committed community. These shoppers will make repeat purchases and become online ambassadors by sharing their experiences with their friends and family.

Memories matter

Thanks in part to social media, consumers prioritise creating memories. While they may or may not purchase products on the spot, these positive and memorable experiences influence consumers to make purchases more than traditional marketing.

In fact, according to Event Track, 74 per cent of event attendees say they have a more positive opinion about the company, brand, or product being promoted after an event. Whether with a VR booth, a children’s ride, a pop-up shop or something else entirely, facilitating in-store experiences will help your brand stand out in the mind of the shopper.

Engage the senses

Five senses means five opportunities for brands to build meaningful connections with consumers. Understanding senses and how they can impact us is a powerful and influential tool that more retailers should be employing. Think about your favourite smell, your favourite sight, even your favourite sound. Each of these senses triggers memories, and emotions are quick to follow. The association between what we see, hear, smell, taste and touch, and how we think and feel, often happens so fluidly and subconsciously that we barely notice it. But our senses are a vital part of everyday life, informing our decisions and ultimately altering our actions.

Be creative, but keep it relevant to your market

When creating experiences, think outside the box and consider the interests of your customers beyond your direct line of products. This might seem counterintuitive, but remember: we’re looking for experiences that resonate, not just quick-win sales.

For exampling, in 2015 Pantone popped up a vibrant bistro in Monaco where visitors could dine on a menu colour-matched to Pantone swatches, like a Pantone 16-0924 croissant, or a Pantone 17-1227 latte. The colours were also incorporated into the set-up, with saturated tones on folding chairs, food trays, and napkins, forming a visual and vibrant experience that begged to be Instagrammed.

Collaboration, not competition

Forget the “kill or be killed” mentality;  today’s consumers will be won through clever collaborations. Find ways to join forces with like-minded brands or retailers that share your target market and drive more value for your customers. This can be done, for example, through a booking platform that connects brands with bricks-and-mortar businesses. Collaboration can offer powerful opportunities for brands that do not have the budget for major experiential campaigns, or for products or services that can’t be “sampled” in a traditional mass way. It also gives retailers an easy way to bolster their in-store experience by giving their customers relevant and delightful surprises.

A few pointers

●   Don’t get lost in the hype and lose sight of your key objective. Make sure there are ways to measure what you do. Include a discount sales code that helps you measure uptick in purchases, use a hashtag that you can track on social, or incentivise product reviews online. Remember that ROI on experiential can take longer to show the impact, but it’s still crucial.

●   Don’t forget about the importance of context, timing and relevance. Experiential marketing and brand activations can too easily come off as gimmicks when they’re not done strategically.

● Don’t think bigger is always better. Mass marketing might work for some, but most consumers these days crave authenticity and want to be treated as individuals. An intimate, personal experience that engages with fewer of the right people is far more effective than a hit-and-miss broad approach. In fact, given the sometimes costly nature of in-store experiences, it’s a good idea to start small and look to scale the experience once you know what works. Think about one or two aspects of your customer journey, and how you can improve this. This way you can learn what works well with your consumers and what doesn’t, and expand on future events.

While the explosion in e-commerce may have placed stores in a precarious position, it certainly isn’t the “death of bricks-and-mortar” as some might predict. There is an intrinsic and irreplaceable value in the face-to-face interactions offered by physical stores. Our job as marketers is to harness that.

Teresa Aprile is the CEO and co-founder of Brandcrush, a marketing platform that connects brands with consumers through product sampling and brand experiences via a trusted network of businesses.

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