All the talk of bricks and mortar retail is doom and gloom.
It’s hardly surprising. The UK is experiencing record levels of consumer debt, a decline in wages and a noticeable shift in consumer spending habits to online.
Subsequently the number of shops in the UK is set to recede 22% from 281,930 to 220,000 in 2018 alone. Combine this with predictions of a further 164 major or medium-sized companies set to fall into administration (22,600 stores and 140,00 jobs) and the outlook for retail looks very bleak indeed.
But here at Atomic we’re altogether more optimistic about the future for the traditional shop. We see some significant evolutions happening in the industry that, if adopted successfully, can brilliantly equip retailers for the 21st century.
There are plenty of brands that have reacted to the changes and even capitalised on them. Some have chosen to improve and evolve their stores to keep up with changing consumer desires, and a spending shift towards online and entertainment, whilst others have set to revolutionise the word retail itself. But at the heart of all of this has been one word; experience.
An exceptional retail experience is created in three ways…
- Sensation – creating a unique in-store perception that inspires customers to share with their friends and wider network.
- Image – creating an image of the bricks and mortar brand that inspires thought and creativity.
- Affection – using the sensations and imagery above to trigger real emotions that connect to the brand as part of the immersive retail experience.
There are plenty of brands following this mantra to great avail.
Westfield turned shopping into a day out, Argos has become the number one retailer of toys via heavy investment in in-store technology, and The Entertainer has grown their portfolio of stores to over 150 by personalising its in-store experience.
These positive experiences rely heavily on personal interactions between staff and shoppers – a dimension that can’t fully be replicated online. Brands such as Waterstones and John Lewis have used this fact to their advantage.
But experience isn’t just about where you are; it’s about who you’re with. Community and experience go hand in hand. After all, what is an experience if you can’t enjoy and share it with other like-minded people?
Community is a sense of belonging to something bigger than yourself, and it’s a notion that successful retailers are employing – becoming places of worship for the communities they serve.
The most vivid examples of prosperous brand communities are the likes of Patagonia and Supreme. Patagonia has carefully cultivated a brand around a community of adventurers and extreme sports hobbyists, whilst Supreme have created an in-store culture where instead of browsing products, shoppers can listen to music, have a drink and talk to brand advocates (their staff).
There is a future-facing reality to this concept, where the brand plays facilitator to people looking to connect with like-minded others.
Experience also points to partnership and collaboration based opportunities.
Take Rockar and Next who’ve teamed up in Manchester’s Arndale Centre to create a ‘showroom-style motor retail space upon entering the Next store’. The mind boggles, but the point is, this will be the first time the two sector specialists will come together, with the hope of expanding ‘car-retail’ into more of Next’s 500 UK shops.
Retailers are looking for tech partners too. In partnership with Apple using augmented reality, Tesco has enabled its customers to visualise specific products, through an AR version of their Home Book catalogue.
Of course retail isn’t without its challenges. Conditions are tough and the world has changed. But as long as retailers can accept that retail will never be the same again, and acknowledge their role is to create unique, unbeatable experiences – in whatever form possible – then we believe a very exciting future lies ahead.