From one point of view, you can look at physical retail’s efforts to compete with e-commerce as a mad scramble. Or you can see the attempts as innovation, which ultimately benefits consumers (or at least, entertains them). For our part, we’re partial to the second viewpoint, and 2012 provided no shortage of ideas to back that up:
1. Unbranded, silent shopping spaces: Selfridges’ upcoming “No Noise” campaign is one of the weirder ideas out there, particularly since the concept is going to be executed in both literal and figurative ways. A silent space in the London department store will promote peaceful shopping by banning cell phones and shoes, and brands sold within the space have been asked to remove their labels (a figurative attempt at de-noising fashion).
2. Diversification: At the other end of the spectrum is general diversification. Malls have been adding restaurants, grocery stores, and nicer movie theaters to appeal to shoppers looking to get a range of errands done in one place. On the more micro end, they’re also diversifying their basic services to help out customers more effectively, from offering valet parking to adding childcare services.
3. QR codes that were actually useful: A few different retailers, mostly big box stores, finally figured out how to employ QR codes in their marketing strategies in ways that actually appealed to customers this year. Target used them in-store to help parents stealth shop, and Walmart made an entirely virtual, Mattel-themed toy store.
4. Drive-through service: Why has this taken so long? It’s not that customers are opposed to going to stores on the whole, but they’ll do what they can to make it as efficient as possible — including ordering online and picking up later. This year, retailers like the Container Store and Sears added “click and pickup” service. Now if only more stores would get on board — we’re looking at you, Ikea.
5. Stores-within-stores: One way to uniquely highlight luxury brands in a retail space is to give them their own, smaller “store” — from pop-up shops housed in larger retailers to designated, branded arcades, big department stores drew attention to some of their top brands by offering them in well thought out, intimate spaces.