While many would argue that brick-and-mortar retail is a dying breed, we can clearly see that’s not exactly the case. Online retailer Amazon recently acquired its own physical stores with the purchase of Whole Foods and its first retail pick-up store opening in Columbus, Ohio. This is resounding proof that traditional retail is in fact alive and well.
What many retailers, and some developers, seem to struggle with, though, is the fact that their shoppers are no longer traditional. With cultural shifts in family roles, increasing technology presence and socioeconomic changes throughout the country, shoppers are beginning to fall into two categories—leisure shoppers and convenience or efficiency shoppers—and every one of us has likely been both types depending on the day.
In a time where many people, especially Millennials, are more likely to spend their money on experiences rather than products, retailers and developers need to look beyond their product and more closely at their brand experience. Leisure shoppers are not strolling around the mall just looking to pick up a shirt—they’re seeking true entertainment and engaging brand experiences.
Leisure shoppers are expecting premium experiences with premium service. During the downturn of the economy, many retailers spent a lot of time and money looking at the back-of-house and/or internal issues in their organizations and began neglecting the front-of-house branding and customer engagement. Now that we’re back on the upswing, it’s time to start focusing more on the customer. Sales staff need to be educated on products and overall company offerings. Companies should challenge themselves to offer a truly valuable customer experience. For example, stores like Sur la Table and Williams Sonoma offer in-house cooking classes, which is a great way to engage customers and keep them coming back.
Not only do leisure shoppers want a great experience while browsing, they also want all the hi-tech items in the fitting room. Abercrombie & Fitch recently rolled out a new prototype store where fitting rooms are more like “private suites” than bathroom stalls where customers can control their own lighting (for the perfect selfie to show off your new clothes—free marketing for A&F). The rooms even include controls for music and a charging doc for your phone.
These aren’t the only bells and whistles customers will come to expect. Virtual reality is becoming more and more common in the retail world, too. Customers can actually see how clothing is going to look on them before they try it on; or maybe they want to walk around their newly designed kitchen before they make the final decision on the countertops and appliances. With technology and virtual reality, this is all possible, and shoppers are starting to expect it.
When it comes to convenience shoppers, they’re all about efficiency. In a world where time is money, these shoppers have a goal in mind and they want to get things done as seamlessly as possible. One of the key things that many mall retailers offer is the “buy online, pick-up in store” option. While this has become almost standard for mall retailers, grocery stores are finally jumping on the bandwagon. Consumers are busier than ever and being able to pick-up groceries for a family of four without getting out of your car is a lifesaver for many. Many shoppers will even switch their store loyalty if their current store doesn’t offer this service.
When efficiency shoppers are making a quick trip to the store, they want fewer distractions. A lot of this comes down to effective store planning and design, as well as some in-depth analytics. Retailers need to re-evaluate their square footage requirements, especially in the grocery/consumer packaged goods sector. There is a high demand for a smaller format grocery store for “fill-in” trips. These smaller format stores mean fewer product offerings, which means products need to be carefully curated using data analytics to fit the target demographics of the given area. Don’t be surprised if these stores even start to do away with the check-out completely. Amazon opened its first Amazon Go store in Seattle, and it’s eliminated the requirement of waiting in line to check out. No lines, now that’s efficiency.
While convenience shoppers expect things to be quick and simple, they also want things personalized. Many busy consumers have claimed they simply don’t have time to shop for clothes. Well, Stitch Fix, an online platform, has made big waves in the world of personal styling. For a minimal fee, you can have a number of items selected by your personal stylist with the assistance of data from your personal style profile. Clothes can be tried on in the comfort of your own home to see how you like them. Keep what you want, and send back what you don’t. It’s that simple—and it’s probably going to show up at a mall near you.
Imagine somewhat of a personal concierge that does the shopping for you, while all you have to do is drop by the mall to try on the various items (from multiple stores) and select what you’d like to purchase. These would even offer in-house alterations, if necessary. It’s a one-stop shop that is completely personalized and efficient.
In the retail world today, shoppers have high expectations. They want to be surrounded by engaging and exciting experiences, but they also want the option to complete their shopping trip quickly when needed. It’s up to retailers and developers to find the balance between the two types of shoppers that have emerged through the years.
Jessica Neal serves as a project manager at M+A Architects, a Columbus, Ohio-based architecture firm. For more information, visit www.ma-architects.com.