Brick-and-mortar retailers have gone back to basics in recent years, eschewing the massive, often impersonal “big-box” store model in favor of leaner, more accessible spaces that facilitate making a connection with customers, rather than bombarding them by endless choices in a warehouse-like location.
“Showrooming” was once a scourge of the brick-and-mortar store. Shoppers would stroll through stores, play with items on display, then go home and buy it online. But retailers have embraced that trend, even encouraging customers to try items in the store. The key difference is, instead of sending them off to make their purchase elsewhere, they enable the sale from their online presence in-store. Luxury Italian shoemaker M.Gemi has two showrooms featuring their handmade shoes, but customers don’t take their purchases home. Instead, they try on what they like, make their purchase in-store, and have it delivered right to their door.

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Using the Store to Tell a Story

Brands are also changing the way they use the store as an asset. Rather than a repository for items for sale, there’s a push to utilize the physical store space itself as a platform to communicate a brand’s message. Luggage company Away sells one thing: carry-on luggage. And the store locations themselves reflect the travel lifestyle at every turn. Travel guides adorn the walls, and a coffee shop greets customers right by the entrance.

Service and Selection Take Center Stage

Big brands are getting in on the action, too. Nordstrom has a merchandise-free store in West Hollywood that focuses solely on service. Customers who visit the store don’t leave with shopping bags or purchases, but they can get their nails done, their clothing tailored, or their hair styled. It’s a major twist on the brand’s roots as a mall anchor store, and a pivot to focusing on personalization and catering to customers’ needs outside of shopping.
Beauty companies have routinely been ahead of the curve on retail innovation, and Sephora has undergone a push to cater to every type of beauty shopper, whom it’s placed into 3 categories: inspiration, mission-driven and quick stop, Bridget Dolan, SVP of omni experiences and innovation at Sephora told Retail Dive. Catering to each category of shopper, and carrying and displaying the appropriate merchandise, is achieved with the help of digital tools and beauty consultants.
In the age of online shopping, customers aren’t as enamored with walking around a sprawling store as they once were. Retailers are taking note of this trend and trimming the fat, providing a more personal touch just not possible in a veritable warehouse full of goods.

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