Traditional department stores were once social hubs whose role in consumers’ lives extended far beyond retail. Since the 19th century, shopping has been about the spectacle as much as the merchandise. After all, seeing Christmas decorations in stores was once a special occasion for the family rather than something that made us cringe (partly because they didn’t put them up in September, to be sure). In some countries like South Korea, in-store restaurants became an opportunity for women to mingle. Yet these days, more and more malls and shops are closing their doors under competition from online shopping.
As the convenience of online purchasing erodes the necessity for brick-and-mortar stores, brands must find a way to once again convince consumers that they offer something unique and enjoyable that’s worth being physically present to experience. This is no easy task in a tech heavy society where many already feel that people too often connect with or through devices, rather than face to face. So for many brands the physical entity of the store itself becomes a potential asset, creating opportunities to forge emotional connections with consumers.
Although some articles may call this a “reinvention” of retail, in many ways deemphasizing sales and focusing instead on building spaces for social interaction and emotional connections with consumers is about getting back to the basics of creating shopping experiences. Here are three ways brands are putting a modern twist on the broader roles of brick-and-mortar.
TURNING A PURCHASE INTO AN EXPERIENCE
Perceptions and understandings of Millennials may vary dramatically, but everyone seems to agree that they tend to value experiences over material possessions. Shops that offer disparate products and services create a memorable custom experience that gives people a reason to linger. This trend has been gaining attention, sometimes called multifunctional retain or compound entrepreneurship.
There are some amazing complementary concepts being explored. London hair salon, Percy and Reed, offers customers breakfast, while New York’s Blind Barber takes it further by including their own café/lounge where clients can enjoy cocktails before their shave or haircut. Community 54 locations vintage street wear with a retro games arcade and contemporary art to create a destination that blends entertainment and retail.
MAKING A STORE A PLACE TO RELAX AND SPEND TIME
Consumers are becoming much more invested in the background of the companies that they purchase from. It’s a new world for branding and consumers are looking for a more complete package – not just a brand that gets the job done, but a brand that resonates with and even helps create a self-brand/self-identity as part of the consumer’s lifestyle.
Leveraging the creativity inherent in the story behind Moleskine, the stationery company introduced hybrid café-retail spaces where consumers can relax and be inspired while working on creative projects of their own. Razer, a gaming PCs and accessories company, has built its store locations around a core principle of providing customers a place to hang out and have access to expert staff members without pressure to purchase or even the overt presence of merchandise.
Particularly for high-end goods, multifunctional spaces create reasons for consumers to visit a store more often and spend more time engaging a brand in the wider context of a lifestyle. Like bookstores before them, Shinola sees an in-store café as a relaxing communal space that naturally complements their customers’ appreciation of high quality and the Shinola brand’s own emphasis on collaboration and storytelling. By reframing the store as a great nook to settle into, brands foster emotional connections to consumers’ lifestyle aspirations. After all, even if you can’t afford the perfect watch, you can give yourself a dirty chai and a dream. In the case of Toyota or Volvo, adding a restaurant can also make showrooms less intimidating.
MAKING A STORE PART OF YOUR COMMUNITY
Many brands are going still further by hosting regular events, drawing consumers into a community built around the brand. Perhaps the best example is Bandier, an “active fashion” brand best known for its leggings. Their shop is built to rival a traditional department store by offering not only boutique classes in their fitness studio but also a juice bar and lounge. The company founder, Jennifer Bandier, blends this with her own background in the music industry by hosting events such as album release parties. From bookstores (like Ann Arbor’s own Literati) to kitchenware, shops are hosting classes, concerts, book clubs, and other events where consumers can further explore their interests while also meeting others who share them. After all, it’s still a challenge to meet new people despite all the apps out there (which is probably why there are still so many being made).
Of course, the line between online and brick-and-mortar is not a hard and fast division. Once exclusively online stores are exploring ways to reach out to consumers in the physical world, such as Bonobos’ “guide shops.” Facilitating tech interaction and services is also another way more traditional shops can let customers have the best of both worlds, blending the immediate access to and sensory experience of the products or access to knowledgeable and polite staff, with online conveniences like tutorials linked to products, access to reviews, or more flexible delivery and pick-up options.