The future of bricks and mortar retail

May 16, 2018

Reports this week suggest that consumer spending in the UK high street fell at its fastest rate in six years. Visa said spending in bricks and mortar stores fell 5.4% in April (compared to the same period last year). At the same time, the British Retail Consortium disclosed that one in every 10 shops on the high street lay empty.

So, what does this mean? Is this the beginning of the end for bricks and mortar shopping?

Well, probably not.

And certainly not having been listening to some of the transformational stories being presented by speakers at this year’s Future Stores conference in London this week.

Sure, retailers are under enormous pressure as consumer spend shifts online; but dig into the numbers and a clear pattern emerges. Bricks and mortar performance in prime city-center shopping destinations continues to thrive. Many of these sites have worked to adapt and become destinations in their own right – providing experiences that just can’t be replicated through digital channels.

Of course, such an approach isn’t practical for every retailer – especially the smaller, local stores – but it does point to two key strategies that every retailer must start considering.

The experience is king

The fusion between retail and experience has exploded in the last two years. In that time, two brand activation strategies have emerged:

1. Retail-tainment: Brand activation is about bringing a brand to life and engaging with customers in a way often not directory associated with “selling” the product. One great example from Vans (a Concrete client!), is the House of Vans in London. With its own concert stage, cinema and skate park, the space brings together art, music, skateboarding, and fashion. There’s so much to do, you’ll be hard pushed to buy a pair of Vans footwear, but of course that’s not the space’s purpose.

2. Value-Added Services: Shopping online is often a purely transactional experience, which is why so many brands are investing in personal experiences to add value to the transaction. One great example is from make-up brand Charlotte Tilbury. At many sites, shoppers can book 45-minute makeover sessions to recreate the looks of the company’s brand ambassador Kate Moss. Flagship stores also offer a virtual mirror which digitally superimposes the same “looks” onto the shoppers’ faces.

Different channels. One brand.

It’s now an accepted reality that consumer shopping journeys routinely hop between digital channels and physical stores. So why do so many retail brands still fail to deliver a joined-up brand experience across digital and non-digital channels? Too often, shopping on a brand’s website, and then in-store, can feel like two very different experiences.

Online it’s easier for retailers to control their brand message. It’s perfectly curated. However, in-store, it’s up to the store associates to maintain this brand consistency.

“Consumers are often better educated about a brand and its products than the store associates,” observed Ned Gammell, Concrete’s Vice President of North America, at this year’s Future Stores conference in Miami. “That’s not what any brand wants.  In fact, the store associate should be an absolute extension of the brand.”

More than ever before, store associates are your front-line brand ambassadors – tasked with ensuring that the brand expectations you’ve worked hard to set through digital experiences are upheld in the physical world.

Two challenges to achieving this brand continuity are apparent:

1. Stores are largely treated as individual P&L’s with store associates driven by sales targets only. Where retailers are looking to explore the opportunities of building in-store experiences, changes to how store performance is measured must be considered. When digital, and bricks and mortar channels are managed differently, with no acknowledgement of the channel hopping that takes place by the shopper, there’s little incentive for store teams to support the wider customer experience.

2. Transformation begins with your people. Unfortunately, many brands are still reliant on legacy intranet tools, or even email, to share retail operations tasks, and brand information across their retail network – from own stores, to franchise and even wholesale partners. That’s just not going to cut-it anymore. Updates get missed, and content goes stale.

For the brands that Concrete works with, the opportunities are clear. By enabling Head Office, or Regional Management, to better manage the distribution of brand, promotional, and operational content and tasks, they can ensure field teams always have access to the right information at the right time. That means consistent performance, an ability to monitor compliance, and a well-executed in-store experience that lives up to the brand promise.

To learn more about Concrete, and to see how we can improve the final-mile experience for your brand, book a demo.

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