Disclosure: This article was originally published by Forbes on June 11, 2012. William L. McComb is the CEO of Fifth & Pacific Companies, Inc., the sponsor of this site.
Today, in the age of online shopping, flash sales and Groupon, some retailers believe that digital strategy is their “silver bullet.” In reality, it’s a relentless drive to master their customer relationships in a way that integrates and maximizes the power of each channel that is the key: from specialty retail to mobile and beyond – as well as all touch points – from marketing to social media to ecommerce. Retailers must be firing on all cylinders. Yet with all this newness and buzz, what sets truly innovative marketers apart is a single, counterintuitive insight: The in-store shopping experience matters now, more than ever.
Broadly, three factors are driving the importance of the modern in-store brand experience. The first is the inherent limit of the e-commerce experience: People still want to see, touch and feel products, and do so with others—ideally in a community of the brand loyal. Only a store can deliver that full experience. Just ask Piperlime – who recently announced their first real-world retail store, a shift from their online-only strategy. Second, with our current economic stagnation, we are shopping less, but we want our experiences to provide more – not merely a trip to the mall, but rather an escape. Third, with the use of mobile continuing to grow, evolve and become increasingly important, brands that successfully merge online and real-world experiences—often using mobile as the bridge – are seeing the benefit in their bottom lines.
The challenge, then, for top companies is clear: How do you leverage the in-store experience to ensure brands grow and thrive? In my view, there are five key factors needed to deliver successful in-store experiences in today’s market:
1. Community, Both Online and Off
Whole Foods Market creates a hub for the community with educational activities, free samples, and an engaged social-media component – constantly finding new ways to reach and interact with their customers. Another great example is Lance Armstrong’s Austin bike shop Mellow Johnny’s, which pulls bike enthusiasts in with free classes and post-ride showers. These consumer-centric activities create lasting memories that contribute to brand loyalty and keep shoppers happy and coming back for more.
2. Marriage with Mobile
While some claim that mobile is the end of retail, it’s far more likely mobile shopping apps will make brick-and-mortar retail destinations even more valuable. Smart companies will find ways to use the mobile app as a “teaser” experience that drives the interested to the store, whether for a deeper experience or to buy. Stores like Target are creating apps to make in-store shopping experiences smoother – with list-making tools, product finders, daily deals and online purchasing. You don’t have to set foot in the store to make purchases from the app, but if you do, it makes the experience both more streamlined and enjoyable. Other campaigns like the Instagram photo booth contest at Ted Baker also meld the in-store, online, and mobile worlds.
3. Store as the Ultimate Ad
Easier said than done, I know, but it’s important for a store to have a “place to be” vibe. Puma stores add to their ambiance with live DJs. Our Juicy Couture store on Fifth Avenue uses provocative and innovative window displays, capitalizing on its great location to leave a powerful impression—even on consumers that just pass by. It’s a combination of the right setting, striking look and feel, and, if possible, innovative store design that turns your store into the ultimate, three-dimensional ad.
4. Knowledge Sharing
Of course, it’s very important for customers to feel at ease and welcome as they shop, but what truly sets the best apart is the ability to add insight and knowledge to the experience. Take Apple’s Genius Bar – a streamlined, headache-free, and, above all, enriching shopping experience for customers. Spending time to hire the right people, giving them ample training, and empowering them to share what they know is the new paradigm. Just ask J.C. Penney, which is bringing a version of the “Genius Bar” concept to the department-store model.
5. Design + Visual Power
Every detail in Niketown, for example, was chosen with painstaking care. The store is filled with bright colors, fashionable product, and energetic, upbeat music. You can even design your own shoes. The combination of unique, memorable features with simple design elements creates the type of experience that draws the customer back again and again.
So what’s next? As the line between the virtual and real world continues to blur, new possibilities to enhance both will present themselves. Social games and online content will create new interactive links, with real e-commerce and point-of-sale potential. And, whether or not consumer spending remains relatively restrained, folks have come to expect more memorable, enjoyable experiences than before.
Whether that’s from the integration of mobile to unlock the potential for unique in-store shopping, an unexpected and fresh store design, a highly knowledgeable, welcoming staff, or, better yet, all of the above, brands that deliver a powerful in-store experience will continue to prosper.