As 2014 draws to a close (how can that be?!), the time ripens for reflection. A year that launched with wild speculation that the brick-and-mortar store was on its last concrete footings is culminating with a new understanding of how the old and new modes of shopping have found happy communion.
Let’s recap, in order that we launch the next 12-month stretch with an informed understanding of the more complex and culturally sophisticated business that is shopping today.
In its evolved incarnation, the retail experience emerges as the best of both worlds. Physical stores are kissed by the convenience of the digital age. And online shopping is enhanced significantly by the old-school touchy-feely opportunity that awaits at a store.
Shoppers visit brick-and-mortar shops to enjoy making physical contact with the purchases they are considering. But they do so with the considerable assistance of beacons, RFIDs, smartphone research, 3-D printing and a whack of other digital tools.
• British retailer John Lewis has unveiled an interactive in-store sofa studio that lets customers select from a range of 3-D printed models to get a better idea of what their imagined couch might look like. They place their pick on a “smart table” that detects the RFID tag and brings up the sofa on a computer screen. Once they select a fabric swatch and colour, the digital mock-up incorporates them.
• Customers conduct as much research on a shopping project as they want via their computers at home, and then visit the store to collect their purchase. Their arrival on the premises triggers an alert at the store, and the preordered product is readied for pickup, dramatically reducing both preamble and wait times.
• Burberry’s new flagship store on Rodeo Dr. in Beverly Hills sees salespeople equipped with the Customer 1-2-1 tool. For customers who have opted in to the arrangement, personalized shopper profiles that include a visual wardrobe and a global transaction history for use online and offline, help the retailer to better serve them.
• UK retailer House of Fraser is outfitting its in-store mannequins with built-in beacon technology that will inform customers, via their smartphones, what the mannequins are wearing and where the items can be found in the store.
And so it is that the best retailers are breaking into 2015 with an evolved appreciation for the interactive experience shopping has become. Expect to see more of the trend wherein traditional retailers look to demonstrate their relevance in a digital world while continuing to celebrate the value of the emotional connection a brick-and-mortar store brings to the deal.