In an age of extraordinary change and disruption, much has been said about the future of physical retail. Whether the online space will emerge victoriously or whether brick and mortar spaces are here to stay, the future of retail is ultimately only bright for those who are willing to adapt and become more than a store.
This was the shared sentiment of the second expert panel as they discussed the purpose of retail spaces during the virtual Designscape conference, which opened today, organized by Informa Markets. With physical retail places becoming more experience-driven and with brands enhancing their offerings beyond products, the panelists focused their discussion on how brands can be truly omnichannel and what remains the function of the showroom.
According to Rebecca Leathers, who is the assistant store manager at Heal's, the focus now is trying to make people comfortable in the way in which people choose to shop by becoming an omnichannel brand. “It’s no longer good enough to be a flagship store with a website, rather, you need to be a digital brand but bring some of the soul of the flagship store to the brand’s digital identity,” she explained.
The consensus of the panelists was that smaller independent retailers can adapt much quicker than bigger brands to an omnichannel marketing mix. Kat Maclennan, Visual Merchandising, Dot to Dot, believes that the future lies in successfully being able to merge in-store and online shopping.
“Brands are being encouraged to open up their channels of communication, and use channels such as social media to relate directly to their customers,” Maclennan said. “Store teams have been given an elevated status and have become brand ambassadors, while customers are becoming guests.”
How then do we deliver an experience into bricks and mortar stores? According to Nulty’s founder Paul Nulty, retailing is no longer about the transaction as there has to be a bigger reason for customers to physically go into a store. The question that retailers have to ask themselves is can they afford to change, or can they afford not to change?
When it comes to the blending of digital and showroom, Nulty believes that technology only helps retailers if they already have the infrastructure to use that technology, and also to harvest the data acquired by the technology.
“It will become more common to find innovative ways to use multisensory technology in design to keep people occupied in stores. It is about using design to enhance the retail experience,” Nulty explained.
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