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Why brick and mortar stores will outlive e-tailers

By FashionUnited


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“Retailers will survive...brick and mortar stores do have a future,” stresses David Shah, trend forecaster, futurism and consumer behavior consultant during his presentation of consumer trends 'Strange Encounters of the 2014 Kind.'

Shah is a firm believer that current emerging trends in retail, such as e-commerce, mobile payments and e-tailing do not necessarily mean the of traditional brick and mortar stores, but instead open the gates for a new wave of technological advancement which will bring the consumers back to the high street and shopping malls.

“It won't be the corner shop you once knew, but it will still be the corner shop”

“It won't be the corner shop you once knew, but it will still be the corner shop.” The physical corner store of the future will function in many different ways, adds Shah, integrating new technologies to connect with consumers the minute they walk past the store windows and into the store, seamlessly blending the best a physical store can offer with the virtual shop.

Last year saw global online sales top one trillion dollars for the the first time, a recording breaking amount which gave fashion retailer Next its big Christmas surge that placed them sales wise ahead of Marks & Spencer in the UK. Although amount is predicted to increase as high street retailers continue to invest millions and millions of pounds into e-commerce and m-commerce, the shift from online shopping to physical shopping may come sooner than predicted.

According to recent research from technological firm IBM, online retailers will go head to head with retailers on the high street within the next five years, as the brick-and-mortar stores will be better equipped to offer consumers a fully integrated shopping experience. “In five years, local stores will merge digital with the instant gratification of physical retail to offer a more immersive and personalized shopping experience and make same-day delivery a snap,” commented Sima Nadler, lead retail IBM researcher.

Already some patterns have begun to emerge which suggests the return of the brick-and-mortar stores, notes Shah. Over the past few years online showrooming, consumers using their smartphone or tablets to compare the prices and details of products in-store to products online, had become something of a norm. However, a recent report from BI Intelligence found that reverse showrooming is steadily increasing, as consumers start to research products online, but then head to a bricks-and-mortar store to make their purchase.

The return of the brick-and-mortar store

Another trend in the return of the physical store can be seen in the resurgence of the shopping mall. Although shopping centers and malls appear to be losing consumer footfall in the US and UK, in the Middle East in Dubai, plans to build the Mall of the World, a climate-controlled leisure district a place of shops, restaurants, hotels, entertainment and healthcare, have been announced. The indoor shopping center will take approximately 10 years to complete and will span over 7 kilometers, which will be connected by trams for easy travel.

But how will these shopping centers and corner shops of the future be able to hold their consumers failing attention, which has dropped from 12 seconds in 2008 to 8 seconds in 2014? Shah believes that the best way for retailers to grab their customers attention is by turning physical stores into curated conceptual spaces. By merging existing retail space with something new, such as a theater, an art gallery, a café, library or cosmetic booth, consumers will be offered a new category of entertainment and products, which causing them to feel like the 'pearl diver'.


example, department store group Selfridges recently launched a new campaign, 'Hello Beautiful', using two of its main marketing platforms digital and in-store events which was designed to create an open debate among consumers about the different approaches and perception of visual beauty. The campaign ran for six weeks, during which Selfridges held a number of debates about beauty, in-store demonstrations, workshops and opened a Google+ photo booth where customers could share photographs of themselves online and in person in Selfridges window display in its Oxford Street flagship store in London.

Another way physical retailers can keep their product offering new and fresh is by opening a pop-up shop in an existing store. By using a rotating temporary offering retailers are able to test certain concepts and products without having to invest in revamping its whole store offering, whilst presenting consumers with something new. A new concept, Spacerebels.com, the Airbnb for stores, helps connects retailers with designers who are interested in renting out existing retail space in physical stores.

Spacerebels.com offers minimal financial risk to physical store owners looking to rent out a portion of their retail space by allowing them to offer new brands for a low price to test the market without having to invest in new inventory. The online marketplace also helps designers get closer to their customers by allowing them to see and feel their products in person.

Future stores to seamlessly blend analogue experience with digital

There are also a number of new apps emerging which are helping physical stores seamlessly blend together the best of online shopping with real-time shopping. Mobile apps using Beacon technology are currently being tested by a number of high street retailers. House of Fraser, Bentalls, and Hawes & Curtis are among the first British retailers to introduce beacon-enabled mannequins to their store windows.

The smart mannequins are able 'talk' to customers using VMBeacon technology, which allows the mannequins to sync and transmit information about the clothing on display to consumers via an app on their smartphone using bluetooth. In order to receive the information, customers will have to download the free Iconeme app, which lets retailers control what information the mannequins send out and allows them to engage directly with consumers who are passing by, or shopping in the store, within a 50 meter radius.

One technological company which brings together the best of virtual shopping with in-store shopping is Hointer. By using mobile software, combined with a robotic backend and a development strategy which uses rapid software prototyping. Hointer offers customers a whole new in-store experience. Hointer uses eTags which customers and sales associates can scan to learn more about the products. Once a customer has decided which garment they wish to try on, it will arrive in the fitting room within 30 seconds, making it easy for customers to try on as many garments as they want, whilst sales associates can offer matching items to go with garments being tried.

Then when a customer is finished with fitting, they can drop unwanted items down a chute which removes them from their shopping cart and use one-click mobile checkout system to complete their purchase. By having less merchandise on display in the store, retailers have more space for other customer experiences, adds Shah. “Analogue is the future, as digital meets analogue in the retail world and this is why brick and mortar stores will succeed.”

“Sometimes you need to sleep with the enemy to get ahead, but convergence in retail is the future.”

Photos: David Shah, Artists impression of the Mall of the World in Dubai, Selfridges Hello Beautiful Campaign in London.

David Shah