The Next-Gen Store – What’s it Feel Like?
By Kristy Bernzott, Account Manager, Performance Team LLC
The days when consumers walk into a retail store ready to learn about a potential purchase are fading. More than ever, today’s consumers have done extensive research online — prior to having their car drive them to the store.
Many consumers spend countless hours watching and reading product reviews while browsing through online forums as others share tales about the objects of their desire. To keep consumers coming back, in-store visits must be engaging, fun, exciting and memorable.
A few ways that retail stores can transform their physical locations into a memorable “next-gen” experience include:
1) Using virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) to let consumers immerse themselves in a virtual experience with the product they seek. Appliance and furniture stores have used this tech to position a potential refrigerator or loveseat, for example, in a consumer’s home using VR. Macy’s is using “smart mirrors” in stores to inspire customers on their shopping journeys. Revenue related to VR initiatives is expected to jump by 3,000% in the next four years and could generate as much as $1.8 billion for retail and marketing companies in 2022.
2) Helzberg Diamonds is the first jeweler to use augmented reality to let in-store customers view more than 100 different ring settings on their finger at multiple angles through interactive screens set into the showcase counter, as the customer’s hand rests on a platform underneath. Since today’s ring shoppers have already spent countless hours researching and viewing diamond rings online, the AR concept bridges the gap between the digital space they’re accustomed to and the in-person encounter that can help close the sale, and allows stores to showcase far more rings than they can keep in stock otherwise. The stores also use 24” 4K screens to view their diamond selections up close and with high detail.
3) Gamifying the shopping experience with vignettes, inspiration and treasure hunting. Home Goods and Bed Bath & Beyond have seen great success applying this strategy. A BB&B "treasure hunt" encourages consumers to make cash and carry purchases as they discover different products “hidden” throughout the store. Unique gamification experiences will become more popular and help differentiate next-generation stores.
4) Reimagining the retail landscape and tailoring each store to its local demographics. Target was one of the first retailers to embrace this concept as they created dual entrances (one for online pickups & returns and another where the customer is greeted with grocery and wine options). Since no two neighborhoods are alike, Target focuses on making sure each store is stocked with products and experiences that fit the local customers’ needs. Peloton, the popular brand of spinning bicycles lets you interact with a live class of people from around the world. Inside their store you can try out the experience before committing to the in-home setup.
5) The Container Store, in an effort to combat consumers feeling overwhelmed with their organizational goals, built “The Organizational Studio,” a completely free digital experience that lets customers upload photos or videos of a space they want to organize, explain the organizational problem and set up an appointment to meet a design specialist in a cozy studio in the store.
Almost no one thought an online startup bookseller would threaten the livelihoods of decades old stalwarts like Sears and Macys, but the retail world has changed dramatically, as have consumer expectations. Companies looking to stay relevant in retail — outside of the online world — must push the bounds of creativity to keep people coming back to their stores.