The rise of e-commerce has given offline retail companies plenty of headaches in recent years, but it’s also presented a big opportunity for brands to shift their focus in a way that authentically connects with customers, capturing their attention and inspiring them to become more invested in a brand’s story through its physical presence.
This new way of encouraging loyalty through experience is something that online merchants attempt to replicate, through pop-up shops or a smattering of physical locations, but legacy brick-and-mortar stores have a first mover advantage, and already have the real estate.
Giving Customers a Reason to Visit
Shopping online is almost a reflex at this point, and certainly done more out of convenience than attempting to connect with a brand or as part of a desire to have any sort of experience. We can browse from our couch and click a button on our phone to place an order, simple as that. To get a customer to visit a physical location these days requires offering a little something different. Shoppers need a compelling reason to trek out to a store, find parking and walk through the doors instead of taking the easy way out, scrolling and clicking on our devices from the comfort of home.
Physical retail spaces can and must be so much more than a place where shoppers convene to buy stuff. E-commerce has made that transactional model about as seamless as it can be and is iterating on it all the time. To differentiate themselves in this commoditized shopping environment, retailers are re-inventing the store as a community gathering space, a place to be entertained, and somewhere to interact with the products they sell.

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Despite the meteoric rise of e-commerce platforms, the millennial generation coveted by brands actually spend 81% of their money in stores, according to NPD Group research and reported by RetailCustomerExperience. Even though this is a generation that spends a significant portion of their time online, they can be courted by the experience of a brick-and-mortar store that takes time to cater to them and encourages interactivity, with products as well as other shoppers.
This push for personalization and humanization of retail recalls a bygone era where hanging out at the mall was how many kids spent their time. They’d go into stores and spend money simply because they were there. With so many shopping options available outside the four walls of a store today, it takes some forethought and effort to get them in the doors. Once they’re inside, you’re presented with a multitude of opportunities to dazzle and delight them, making the experience memorable and building a lasting rapport.
Making Customers Part of Your Brand Story
A big part of creating that authentic experience is through customer service, an aspect of online shopping that’s distinctly lacking in the personality department. Sure, an online shopper’s inquiries can be answered via email, but it can’t truly take the place of a knowledgable store associate who knows the inventory and can make suggestions on the spot face to face. Associates interacting with customers is a good way to learn what they really want, engaging them in actual conversation can provide a more in-depth glimpse than any online survey. That human element is a big piece of making customers feel important and like their feedback matters.
Online merchants launch new products all the time, but besides an email reminder or a pop-up ad announcing and hyping or counting down the launch, the overall experience is a little lackluster. Offline merchants are turning product launches into can’t-miss events, hosting in-store parties with free food and drinks and unveiling the new product in dramatic fashion. This puts customers at the center of the action and makes them feel like they’re part of this chapter of the brand’s story. That’s a difficult feeling to recreate staring through a screen.
E-commerce has many advantages over physical retailers, so those retailers have, out of necessity, adapted and learned how to play to their strengths. Online grocery shopping is fast and convenient, but you miss out on the sensory experience. You can’t smell a fresh bunch of basil, eat a free sample or engage with fellow shoppers while browsing online. Smart retailers are taking those irreplaceable tactile, sensory and social experiences and making them a central focus of their strategy.