Retailers around the world are transforming their operations in light of new and emerging challenges such as the rise of e-commerce and mobile shopping and an overall decline in foot traffic at brick-and-mortar stores. Capitalizing on their strength of having a physical presence in which to woo shoppers has become a central focus of many store models, and the result is interesting and memorable experiences.

Such experiences are devised to make an impression on shoppers that e-commerce platforms simply cannot, from pop-up shops carrying new or limited-time products, to high-tech displays that incorporate virtual or augmented reality, to in-store experiences like concerts, art exhibitions or cafes. Brick and mortar retailers are fighting back with the resources at their disposal, turning what was once a disadvantage versus e-commerce into a unique strength.

High Tech Beauty Shopping

Beauty brands in particular have been quick to embrace the latest and greatest retail technologies, such as smart makeup mirrors that let customers virtually try on cosmetics before buying. Sephora scans shoppers faces to get their “Color IQ,” to find which color palettes best complement their skin tone. The company’s Virtual Assist mobile app lets customers digitally try things like lipstick, eyeshadow or even eyelash extensions using augmented reality.

Some experiences are made to drop customers’ jaws and create something unforgettable. Burberry’s Beijing location uses 4-D video to create holographic projections of real models, who transform into liquid or clouds, or multiply into large numbers of doppelgangers.

Apple’s new Milan Apple Store will feature an outdoor theater for hosting events like concerts, giving customers more of a reason to visit their store than just the latest products.

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Personalization and Embrace of Social Media

Ulta Beauty has seen tremendous sales growth (63%, according to MyTotalRetail) and plans to open 100 new locations. One of the key differentiators has been the company’s laser-focus on personalization and collecting information about customer preferences for targeted marketing later, such as when a new product comes out that the store’s analytics system thinks a customer might be interested in.

West Elm is a retailer smartly leveraging social media, recently introducing its Pinterest Style Finder to let shoppers find style inspirations on the platform and guiding them towards a purchase from their physical stores or its own e-commerce site. This blend of personalization and online and offline commerce has proven successful for the company.

Retailers have had to get creative in light of the strength of their e-commerce competition. The days of customers breezing through the front door in great numbers on the strength of brand cachet alone are largely over, and to keep relevant, brick-and-mortar retailers have had to innovate to grow. Experiential retail is likely here to stay, at least until the next wave forces a new pivot.

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