Predicting what the future holds in store (pardon the pun) for retailers became much trickier when the pandemic blind-sided us in 2020. But a recent Wall Street Journal article has some good news regarding the future of physical shops. Although writer Suzanne Kapner is mostly discussing online chains in E-Commerce Needs Real Store Locations Now More Than Ever, all of us should be happy to hear that “bricks-and-mortar stores are back in style.”  For the first time since 2017, she reports, retailers are expected to open more stores than they close.

There are a few reasons for this that may not apply to independent retailers – for example the fact that giants such as Amazon are opening stores as a place for shoppers to pick up and return online purchases. Others are using stores to showcase merchandise that can only be bought online.

But the best retail stores are once again offering experiences beyond browsing, which means a return to “retailtainment.”  A real shop gives customers an opportunity to interact with merchandise, and provides a chance to learn more about the products.  These interactions significantly increase the likelihood that a consumer will make a purchase.

Another aspect of this movement is that shopping becomes an enjoyable experience rather than a chore. Color, lighting, aroma, music, visual merchandising and even refreshments can be used to create an atmosphere which consumers find entertaining. According to Michael Morrison at the Australia Centre for Retail Studies, “consumers will be willing to pay more for a brand if there is a perceived or actual added value from their experience of using the product or service.”  Examples would be the interactive features of a Disney Store for kids, of Dick’s Sporting Goods for adults.

How does this apply to your store? As we emerge from the restrictions of the pandemic, we have the opportunity to reintroduce some of the special events and welcoming features that we offered in the “Before Times.”  You could do classes or demonstrations; offer food samples; have a set-up with props for photos. How about a product that can be customized, or a contest for customers? Take a look online, and on Instagram, to see what other stores like yours are doing.

The Wall Street Journal article concludes with something we’ve always known: “customers like to shop in stores to see products before they buy them and get help from a human sales associate rather than a chatbot.” They also note that “younger customers especially like the social aspect of shopping with friends.” Hopefully this means a bright future for brick and mortar stores like ours.

Happy retailing, 

Carol “Orange” Schroeder