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The death of the retail store?

Greatly exaggerated and here’s why


Article by Lorna Goulden

Over 23% of all retail sales are now made online

Today in Europe, over 23 per cent of all retail sales are now made online – a figure that's growing by 1.5 to 2 per cent annually. As smartphones continue to add more capabilities, consumers are generally increasingly choosing to make purchases using their mobile devices. In recent years, a number of big name high-street chains have closed down, unable to effectively respond to their online-only competitors, unencumbered by bricks and mortar estates.

Does this mean that there's no longer a role for physical retail stores in a digital-first, internet age?

Not at all. Bricks-and-mortar shops won't be going away any time soon but their role will undergo a significant change in response to consumers' still-growing appetite for online shopping.

Consumers now have more ways to purchase from retailers than ever – in store, on their phone, desktop or tablet – but the shop's role as the central point of interaction between a customer and a business will only continue to strengthen. Despite all the other channels on offer, it's incredibly important for consumers to have a place they can go when they need to talk to the retailer.

Telcos are a great example of how bricks-and-mortar and online can complement and strengthen each other. In telecoms, products, services and solutions are becoming more complex, so consumers still need the human interaction that shops offer, to help explain that complexity and answer any questions.

By talking with the telco's product experts in-store, consumers are able to understand what the value of the product or service means to them. Equally, by visiting one of the telco's shops, consumers can build up a relationship that can continue over time, both with the brand and with the store.

Enhancing the customer experience

Retailers are now looking at their stores as ways of enhancing the customer experience, making their locations destinations in their own right by running themed events to showcase new products, having experts on hand to help consumers compare products and give advice, or offering classes to show how to use new purchases such as cameras or phones.

Technology has a role to play here too: many retailers have learnt that the clever use of in-store tech can increase customer engagement and bring a new dimension to the shopping experience. Footwear retailers, for example, are starting to offer gait analysis technology that studies how a customer walks and provides suggestions on which shoes would suit them best, while 'magic mirrors' can allow shoppers to virtually try on new clothing or accessorise their outfit based on their measurements and preferences. These sorts of experiences simply can't be found shopping online at home.

Perhaps the greatest vote of confidence in the enduring appeal of the retail store comes from online-only retailers themselves. Eyewear retailer Warby Parker made its name by selling its fashionable glasses purely through its website – now, it has plans to open tens of retail stores so shoppers can go and experience its products before they order. Amazon – for many, the company that defined the pure-play online store – has also begun to open bricks-and-mortar outlets. It has already opened a handful of bookstores and has plans for a chain of grocery stores too.

The death of the retail store has been greatly exaggerated.

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