Here are five ways bricks-and-mortar shops can survive the onslaught of e-commerce

Another one down. Image: Getty.

Rarely a week goes by without news of a household high street name shutting up shop or closing stores. The rise of online shopping, or e-commerce, is widely blamed for the demise of traditional retail. Yet people are spending more money than ever – just not on the high street.

In many ways, the offering provided by the traditional bricks-and-mortar store – such as the latest brand to report hard times, House of Fraser – remains unchanged since its inception more than a century ago. They have been slow to respond to the changing social and technological landscape. And today’s customer expects something more.

The digital age has caused a shift in how consumers engage with their favourite brands – we can now purchase online with the convenience and confidence once the reserve of physical interactions. You can purchase almost anything you might desire online, have it delivered to your door within 24 hours, often with the offer of a free return and refund.

But the place for physical retail is far from over. As humans, we still crave a sense of community, which remains relevant to how we shop. Physical stores can become spaces where people engage with each other and a space where the brand has a unique advantage to engage with potential customers. Here are five hallmarks of stores that will survive these turbulent times for traditional retail.

1. Experiences, not products

The world is moving from a more product-based economy to a service one, with an increased focus on experiences. As people spend more money on doing things than buying them, the retail experience must stay relevant. People want highly personalised experiences and experiences which make them feel good.

Successful shops will spend time with and listen to their customers to find out what will meet their needs and make them feel special. This is a key tenet of cosmetic brand Kiehl’s store strategy, which is effective at giving customers a personalised service.

It’s important to recognise that people do not always visit stores to purchase; they can do that online and often shop around for the best price, often using price comparison sites. So the future of the physical store isn’t about the purchase transactions. It’s about creating events, experiences and ultimately creating brand associations, which help create memories – and loyalty – for the customer.

2. Brand advocates

The right kind of staff that are motivated to provide an excellent in-store customer experience will be another key feature of successful stores. Consider the Apple store. Here staff reflect the aspirational elements of the brand, through their appearance, a subtle use of body language, friendly interactions and addressing customers on a first-name basis. This all leads to a sense of community, reflected in the “Genius Bar”, which acts as a customer services team that isn’t sales focused – it’s purely there for customer support.


3. A place you want to stay

Colour, smell, music and layout are all crucial elements of the customer experience. People do not want infinite product choices. Research shows that too much choice can even leave us feeling confused and unhappy.

Then there’s the fact that you often know what the store sells before you go in and that there any numerous computations of stock online, which can be delivered to your homes at the touch of a button.

The shops of the future will focus on in-store design and ambience that make you feel good being there. Stores will reflect the brand’s identity, which has encouraged customers to enter it in the first place. But, more than this, they should make the transition from online to offline not only crucial, but exciting.

Not only will this make you want to stay for longer, you’re more likely to post about it on social media, creating an electronic word-of-mouth effect.

4. A frictionless experience

In-store experiences of the future will be interactive and seamless. This might be through music, art, technology or even coffee. Stores will have more of a hospitality focus than traditional retail. There will be no hard sell and you’ll be encouraged to browse, chat, laugh – even take pictures.

Successful stores will make you feel relaxed and comfortable, so that the prospect of a purchase is a secondary concern. If you do buy something, it can be done easily, without having to queue at a till. The importance of physical stores can be seen in Amazon’s move into bricks and mortar, but not in the form of your average shop. The retailer’s high-tech Amazon Go store uses technology to track your purchases, removing the need to scan items, let alone waiting to pay for them.

5. Rewards for your time

Shops will recognise that people entering their premises have very different motivations from ten years ago. People do not need to shop on the high street anymore so. when they do, it will come with rewards for their time. Not necessarily physical ones, but an enjoyable experience that makes you feel good.

The future of retail is about social interaction. Customers want to be entertained, engaged and emotionally stimulated. Physical stores must enable consumers to have positive experiences. This may be done through creating an element of surprise for customers, perhaps through art, in-store pop-ups or virtual reality. If stores can surprise and entertain their customers, then they are more likely to develop an emotional connection and keep them coming back for more.

Claire McCamley, Senior Lecturer in marketing, University of Huddersfield.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

 
 
 
 

America's cities can't police their way out of this crisis

Police deployed tear gas during anti-racism demonstrations in Los Angeles over the weekend. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

As protesters took to the streets across the United States over the weekend to express their anger at police killings of unarmed black Americans, it was hard to miss the hypocrisy coming from local authorities – including the otherwise progressive, left-leaning officials who are in power in most major American cities. 

Many US mayors and their police chiefs had issued public statements over the past week that seemed – only briefly, as it turned out – to signal a meaningful shift in the extent to which the Black Lives Matters movement is being taken seriously by those who are in a position to enact reforms. 

The sheer depravity of the most recent high-profile killing had left little room for equivocation. George Floyd, 46, died last Monday under the knee of white Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, while three additional officers helped to hold Floyd down, doing nothing to aid him as he begged for them to stop and eventually lost consciousness. The officers had been attempting to arrest Floyd on suspicion of having used a counterfeit $20 bill at a deli. All four have since been fired, and Chauvin was arrested Friday on charges of third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. 

“The lack of compassion, use of excessive force, or going beyond the scope of the law, doesn’t just tarnish our badge—it tears at the very fabric of race relations in this country,” Los Angeles Police Chief Michel Moore told the Washington Post in response to the Floyd case. Meanwhile Moore’s boss, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, on Friday claimed that he understood why his city, which is no stranger to police brutality, was protesting. “We absolutely need as a nation, certainly as a city, to voice our outrage, it’s our patriotic duty to not only stand up for George Floyd but for everybody who has been killed unnecessarily, who’s been murdered for the structural racism that we have in our country,” Garcetti said. 

Normally, US police chiefs and mayors tend to ask citizens to withhold judgment on these types of cases until full investigations can be completed. But a 10-minute video recording of Floyd’s killing had made what happened plain. Police chiefs across the country – and even the nation’s largest police union, which is notorious for defending officer abuses – similarly condemned the actions of the Minneapolis officers, in a rare show of moral clarity that, combined with the arrest of Chauvin, offered at least a glimmer of hope that this time things might be different. 

As the events of the weekend have since shown, that glimmer was all too fleeting. 

In city after city over the past three days, US mayors and their police chiefs made a series of the same decisions – starting with the deployment of large, heavily armed riot units – that ultimately escalated violent confrontations between officers and protesters. Images widely shared on social media Saturday and Sunday nights made it clear that members of law enforcement were often initiating the worst of the violence, and appeared to treat protesters as enemy combatants, rather than citizens they were sworn to protect. 


In New York City, two police SUVs were seen plowing into a crowd of protesters, while elsewhere an officer was recorded pulling down a young protester’s coronavirus mask in order to pepper spray his face

In Louisville, the city where Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old black woman was fatally shot by police on 13 March, state police in riot gear were captured confiscating and destroying protesters’ supplies

In Minneapolis, forces opened fire with nonlethal rounds on residential streets, much to the shock of homeowners standing on their own front porches. 

Images of police pushing or shoving peaceful protesters were almost too numerous to count, including, in Salt Lake City, an elderly man with a cane

In many places, police also targeted journalists who were covering the protests, firing at clearly identifiable media crews with rubber bullets, injuring and even arresting reporters

Some protesters did commit acts of vandalism and looting, and the leaders of cities where that happened generally responded in the same ways. 

First, they blamed “outside agitators” for the worst protester behaviour, a claim that harkens all the way back to the civil rights era and for which the evidence is murky at best

Next, they enacted sudden curfews with little to no warning, which gave law enforcement an excuse to make mass arrests, in some cases violently. 

In a pair of widely criticized moves, Garcetti of Los Angeles closed the city’s Covid-19 testing centers and suspended the entire mass transit system Saturday evening, stranding essential workers on their way home from daytime shifts. Late Sunday night in Chicago, the city’s public school system halted its free meal distribution service for low-income children, citing “the evolving nature of activity across the city”.  

Governors in at least 12 US states, in coordination with city leaders, have since called in National Guard troops to “help”. 

At this point it’s clear that the leaders of America’s cities are in desperate need of a radically different playbook to respond to these protests. A heavily armed, militarised response to long-simmering anger toward the heavily armed, militarised approach to American policing is more than ironic – it’s ineffective. Granting police officers wider latitude to make arrests via curfews also seems destined to increase the chances of precisely the tragic, racially biased outcomes to which the protesters are reacting. 

There are other options. In places such as Flint, Michigan, and Camden, New Jersey – both poor cities home to large black populations – local law enforcement officials chose to put down their weapons and march alongside protesters, rather than face off against them. In the case of Camden, that the city was able to avoid violent clashes is in no small part related to the fact that it took the drastic step of disbanding its former police department altogether several years ago, replacing it with an entirely new structure. 

America’s cities are in crisis, in more ways than one. It’s not a coincidence that the country has tipped into chaos following months of emotionally draining stay-at-home orders and job losses that now top 40 million. Low-income Americans of colour have borne a disproportionate share of the pandemic’s ravages, and public health officials are already worried about the potential for protests to become Covid-19 super-spreading events.

All of this has of course been spurred on by the US president, who in addition to calling Sunday for mayors and governors to “get tough” on protesters, has made emboldening white nationalists his signature. Notably, Trump didn’t call on officials to get tough on the heavily armed white protesters who stormed the Michigan Capitol building over coronavirus stay-at-home orders just a few weeks ago. 

US mayors and their police chiefs have publicly claimed that they do understand – agree with, even – the anger currently spilling out onto their streets. But as long as they continue to respond to that anger by deploying large numbers of armed and armored law enforcement personnel who do not actually live in the cities they serve, who appear to be more outraged by property damage and verbal insults than by the killings of black Americans at the hands of their peers, and who are enmeshed in a dangerously violent and racist policing culture that perceives itself to be the real victim, it is hard to see how this crisis will improve anytime soon. 

Sommer Mathis is the editor of CityMetric.