We ask marketers: how can brick-and-mortar retailers thrive in 2023?
While we’ve recently lost some high-street retail brands, many are still kicking. How are they surviving – and how will they flourish amid continuing permacrisis? We asked 7 commerce aces from The Drum Network.
Marketers on retail stores' fight to thrive / Eric Muhr via Unsplash
During the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, there was plenty of well-justified concern about the continued existence of brick-and-mortar retail. Since then, we've seen evolutions in the shapes of (and footfalls in) towns and cities; accelerated hybridizations like smart stores; and, despite an IRL bounce-back, continued shifts toward online retailers.
What are the features of this evolving environment that marketers should be paying the closest attention to? In the long run, is brick-and-mortar dead – or an indelible part of life? Read on for our experts’ answers.
Martin Ryan, vice president of retail, EPAM
Retailers must urgently adapt physical spaces to meet current and anticipated sales demand. This often involves a multi-year effort due to lease inflexibility.
The future will see the development of new store formats, heavily edited store assortments, and some closures. This includes fewer but bigger stores that mix product and experience; a proliferation of smaller stores in convenient locations; and, for some sectors, automated and cashier-less stores and collection points. The store mix will be designed to work on an omnichannel model.
Retailers will continue to experiment with live-stream shopping and remote advisory to ensure the attention of new customer demographics.
The shift from physical to less profitable online sales will cause retailers to scrutinize marketing spend that promotes these channels. They will seek compensating benefits, like retail media revenues. Understanding store conversion rates enable marketers to compare online and offline ROI and build a mix of advertising spend.
Retailers will adopt customer data platform projects, implementing technology to survive in a post-cookie world, where tiny signals from consumer devices and behavior are processed by AI models to provide probabilistic knowledge about individuals.
Martin LeBlanc, architect & principal partner at Sid Lee Architecture
From a design perspective, brick-and-mortar retail spaces in 2023 need to center excitement. What’s the incentive to visit? What sort of memories will be created? For Concepts in New York City, for example, we designed a VIP store-within-the-store to offer guests an experience that wouldn’t be possible online.
There are plenty of opportunities for retail spaces to be both reflective of and supportive of the communities they’re located in. This means the prioritization of accessibility but also the inclusion of elements that reflect the city and its people. Something as simple as integrating the work of a local artist goes a long way in cultivating a sense of connection, which is of course the goal when competing with the digital world.
Carly Johnson, vice president, group director of strategy (North America), Momentum Worldwide
Brick-and-mortar retail is in a strong position to not only survive the future but embody what shoppers have always loved about ‘retail therapy’. Looking at the facts alone, despite continued growth in online shopping, in-store still accounts for around 80% of purchases. This past year, brick-and-mortar retailers opened twice as many stores as they closed.
The volley between in-store and online has crystalized how shoppers want to shop. Hybridized shopping has become the sweet spot for most, leveraging the convenience and reach of online with the speed and experience of in-store. There’s a tremendous benefit to mastering this hybrid approach: educate and inspire shoppers online, then convert them in-store where it’s much harder to ‘leave their cart’.
The experience in physical retail cannot be underestimated. Emotion drives behavior; brands and retailers must create experiences that illicit emotions first. Emotion AI is a form of artificial intelligence that marketers should be paying attention to; it allows us to better understand human emotion while shopping through text, speech and facial expressions. When done responsibly and thoughtfully, it can deliver a more personalized and tailored experience.
Kit Bienias, performance director, growth, Brave Bison
E-commerce plays an influential role in driving store footfall. Readily available reporting tools allow marketers to connect the dots between online and offline. And leading ad networks have released a slew of products designed to drive consumers in-store.
Marketers can propel their brick-and-mortar stores forward through pivoting marketing efforts and leveraging the right tools: ingesting store visit and sale data into ad platforms; rolling out local campaigns in search; and adjusting automated bidding strategies to optimize to omnichannel performance KPIs.
Marketers must recognize the importance of online advertising to influence consumers’ offline behavior. The sooner you start connecting the dots, the sooner you’ll reinvigorate brick-and-mortar stores.
Chris Dowse, strategy director, Jaywing
It’s a funny time for brick-and-mortar stores. During the pandemic, there was a longing for the freedom of shopping in person – something we didn’t know we’d missed until it was taken away. However, as lockdowns become a distant memory and household budgets become squeezed by cost-of-living increases, expect to see physical retail dial up its experiential role and become more of a wrapper for ‘event’ or treat purchases to bring cheer among the economic gloom.
With the steady increase of workers returning to city center offices, there’s value in the benefit and convenience of hybrid online and offline services such as in-store click and collect, rather than gambling on being at home for deliveries while on endless Teams calls. The brands that will thrive will be the ones who truly understand their value and the role they play in customers’ lives: convenience and reliability or indulgence and experience.
Becky Simms, founder and chief executive officer, Reflect Digital
The common thread in any commerce setting is the customer. Their needs and desires for a personal approach do not change depending on the setting; their need to feel valued and connected to a brand is constant.
Retailers need to double down efforts to know their customers and personalize experiences, whatever the setting. Thinking about how they can connect a customer journey with in-store tech and provide a rich, personalized experience based on data (that the customer understands they hold) is an exciting prospect. The much-loved loyalty card schemes from retailers like Boots and Tesco place those brands one step ahead. The key will be in the execution.
Holly Ford, head of consumer communications, Evoke Mind + Matter
Covid-19 changed the nature of retail, catapulting e-commerce forward faster than all expectations. In 2021, the UK high street experienced an average footfall decline of 38%. As consumers were forced online, retailers responded by doubling down on their online business and contracting their brick-and-mortar retail footprints.
Lockdown may be over, but the genie is out of the bottle. While certain demographics will always want a physical connection with their favorite retailers, the most successful brands will evolve to a ‘phygital’ approach, offering an optimized blend of experiential and e-commerce to drive equity, loyalty and long-term growth.
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