written by: Yuen Nga Ching, Trista

In recent years, shopping habits have changed significantly due to the rising popularity of online shopping. In US, e-commerce sales volume in Q2 2017 is expected to hit USD$111.5 billion, which is a 16.2% increase from 2016. [1] In a survey conducted by the Wall Street Journal, it is revealed that consumers are now making 51% of their purchases online, confirming the shift of patronage at physical stores. [2]

Under the growing dominance of online retailers, physical stores are at a downhill path. Wet Seal and Bebe, the two women’s clothing chain stores, have decided to close all their stores in 2017. Luxury brands like Michael Kors have announced downsizing their retail channels by closing 250 stores as well. [3]

Despite the disappointing change for retail, it may well be a good time for retail reliance businesses to think twice to reinvent the brick-and mortar model again. To thrive in the digital era, retailers have to help customers to find their way back to physical stores. It is a test of their ability to make good use of advanced technologies to optimize an omni-channels in-store experience. Some examples are illustrated below.

Motionloft – Gathering Store Location Data
Gone are the days for retailers to hire manual helping hands to gather store traffic data; or rely on untimely industry reports for insights.

Motionloft is the latest technology to track shopper behaviors and footprints in physical stores [4]. It is a sensor equipped with computer vision technology. It provides accurate data about total foot traffic, peak hours, vehicle counts and compares multiple locations performances. Verified results is then put into organized reports, from which brands can find draw significant insights and formulate business strategies to capture potential customers just like online retailers.

Omni-channel Seamless Shopping Experience
By incorporating omni-channel strategy, some retailers are taking advantage of their tactile and personalized salesperson service to create a seamless experience in a digitalized physical environment, which is irreplaceable by online shopping.

· Lowe Vision: In-Store Navigation App

Lowe, a US home improvement store, has created a mobile app that digitalizes shopping experience using augmented reality (AR) technology. [5]

Customers can access up-to-date store inventory and search products on the app. The indoor mapping feature will guide them to find items in-store and provide detailed product information. The entire process is supported by offline human touch. For example, sales associates are equipped with smartphones to handle real time customer inquiries.

· Crate and Barrel: Mobile Tote

Customers could pick up a “mobile tote” at the entrance of the store, customers could just scan bar codes and add products to their wish lists by just entering a valid email address. Salespersons will be gathering items on their wish lists as they checkout, saving customers the trouble to carry the goods around.

Crate and Barrel will send customers follow-up emails and use cookies to show display ads based on their preferences. Such omni-channel permission marketing practice has successfully raised in-store checkout rates by 5 times, from 12% to 56%. [6]

Creating Unique and Interactive In-Store Campaigns
Furthermore, to attract more visitors, retailers are designing innovative campaigns and pop-ups stores from time to time to optimize in-store experience. Customers find these appealing as they usually run for a short period of time and carry exclusive in-store offers.

As long as more customers are encouraged to visit brick-and-mortar stores, they will be spending more time and money within the stores, which can generate revenue and build brand loyalty in the long run. Here is an example:

· Topshop: SPLASH!

SPLASH!, Topshop’s 2017 summer campaign, was run at the brand’s famous Oxford Street store. A water slide that traveled around Oxford Street was built with the use of virtual reality (VR) technology to entertain visitors. Brand surprises and advertisements were embedded along the virtual route.

The entire store’s display and merchandising are consistent with the water slide theme. The smell of sun cream is pumped in and there are in-store pop-ups counters to give away free ice cream and swimwear personalization. [7] This kind of campaign makes in-store experience fresh and interactive. Hopefully, this can help sustain brick-and-mortar retail in the future.

To Conclude…
To triumph over e-commerce in the digital era, brands engaged in brick-and-mortar retail should think hard to reinvent retail experience through the unique matrimony of physical stores strengths and digital empowerment. Traditional retail market may shrink, but it will not fade out. It is because the experience of being surrounded by brand products, receiving assistance from salespersons and touching the products before making a purchase can hardly be replicate online.

[1] https://www.iperceptions.com/blog/in-store-experience
[2] https://www.wsj.com/articles/survey-shows-rapid-growth-in-online-shopping-1465358582
[3] https://www.racked.com/2017/2/5/14518126/retail-stores-bankruptcies-closing-us
[4] http://motionloft.com/index.php
[5] https://econsultancy.com/blog/69286-five-innovators-of-the-in-store-customer-experience
[6] http://www.dmnews.com/multichannel-marketing/crate-and-barrel-furnishes-its-in-store-experience-with-digital/article/526883/
[7] https://www.insider-trends.com/making-splash-topshops-vr-waterslide/