The Role of the Physical Store in 2020

16 January 2020

Customer experience | Operations | Training & learning | Employee engagement | 2020 trends

It’s been a tough decade for retail. The “retail apocalypse” has been going on since around 2010, and there have been countless casualties along the way.

But according to leading retail experts, physical retail is not about to disappear forever. It just needs to evolve.

It’s time to shift the role of the traditional brick-and-mortar store so that it’s compatible with the habits of the modern shopper. Here’s what retailers need to focus their attention on in 2020 to get it right.

Short on time right now? Watch this handy video blog instead: 

The Role of the Physical Store in 2020

Dedication to digitization

If digitized store operations aren’t already part of your business model - or at least on your to-do list - where have you been? (Don’t worry, though - we’ve got you covered.)

Digitizing store operations achieves two major goals:

1. Creating a smoother customer journey

The main reason people shop online is because it’s quick, easy and hassle-free. Integrating technology seamlessly into your processes means this can also be true of the in-store experience. Mobile payment, BOPIS (buy online pickup in-store) and self-service cash registers are just a few examples of tech designed to remove friction from buying in-store.

2. Making life easier for store teams

We all know working in retail can be really tough. But equipping sales associates with mobile devices takes a lot of the stress out of the job. With this tool at their fingertips, store teams can deal with tasks and requests much quicker, freeing up time previously spent on low-value manual tasks and leaving more time for helping customers.

Technology is so ingrained in our everyday lives now that digitization is now a necessity, not a luxury.

Having said that, a study by PwC in 2018 found that of the retailers surveyed, only 31% claimed to be “ready for the future.”

We’ve already seen plenty of retailers go under because they failed to innovate. Learn from their mistakes, or risk the same fate.

Delivering unique experiences

The main advantage of brick-and-mortar retail is that it can provide customers with a unique experience - something online simply can’t provide. It’s the reason so many successful digital natives are opening physical stores.

In this new retail landscape, the role of the brick-and-mortar store is to focus less on making the sale in-store and more on delivering these unique experiences, even if it doesn’t result in an immediate sale. If the experience is good enough, over time it will cultivate long-lasting customer loyalty.

Take for example the House of Vans in London. The underground venue (this place takes experience so seriously, it isn’t even a store) features a music venue, cinema, art gallery, bar, and 2 skate areas. Not bad, huh?

Being “instagrammable” also goes a long way - just ask beauty powerhouse Glossier. Each of their popups, including their most recent Covent Garden store, are specifically designed with their snap-happy Gen Z customers in mind. Shoppers just can’t resist posting photos of these beautiful spaces, essentially turning them into brand evangelists who will make others want to come into the store.

Customers have a great time in-store, and the retailer gets more publicity and sales as a result. We’d say that’s a pretty great deal!

Interaction over transaction

A big part of committing to customer experience is the interaction between sales associate and customer. Again, this is something that online shopping just can’t compete with - sometimes you want the opinion or advice of an actual person, rather than a machine.

According to a study by TimeTrade, an overwhelming 94% of shoppers surveyed would buy more from a store if they interacted with a knowledgeable sales associate.

But those interactions don’t just come from nowhere. If an employee is unengaged in their work, they are likely to make a poor impression on customers, often leading to them leaving empty-handed.

The key to cultivating meaningful connections with customers, then, is focusing on employee engagement. If you don’t know where to begin, here are a few ways you can do it:

  • Make communication from the top clear and transparent
  • Give employees the tools they need to succeed
  • Provide them with targeted microlearning
  • Give them a strong company message to get behind
  • Motivate them with recognition and rewards

To get the full lowdown on how to engage and empower your store teams, check out our eBook: A Guide to Retail Employee Engagement.

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