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.

 
 
 
 

Academics are mapping the legacy of slavery in Britain’s cities

A detail of the Legacies of British Slave-ownership map showing central Bristol. Image: LBS/UCL.

For 125 years, a statue of the 17th century slave-trader Edward Colston stood in the centre of Bristol, ostensibly to commemorate the philanthropy he’d used his blood money to fund. Then, on 7 June, Black Lives Matter protesters pulled it down and threw it into the harbour

The incident has served to shine a light on the benefits Bristol and other British cities reaped from the Atlantic slave trade. Grand houses and public buildings in London, Liverpool, Glasgow and beyond were also funded by the profits made from ferrying enslaved Africans across the ocean. But because the horrors of that trade happened elsewhere, the role it played in building modern Britain is not something we tend to discuss.

Now a team at University College London is trying to change that. The Legacies of British Slave-Ownership project is mapping every British address linked to a slave-owner. In all, its database contains 5,229 addresses, linked to 5,586 individuals (some addresses are linked to more than one slave owner; some slave owners had more than one home). 

The map is not exact. Streets have often been renumbered; for some individuals, only a city is known, not necessarily an address; and at time of writing, only around 60% of known addresses (3,294 out of 5,229) have been added to the map. But by showing how many addresses it has recorded in each area, it gives some sense of which bits of the UK benefited most from the slave trade; the blue pins, meanwhile, reflect individual addresses, which you can click for more details.

The map shows, for example, that although it’s Glasgow that’s been noisily grappling with this history of late, there were probably actually more slave owners in neighbouring Edinburgh, the centre of Scottish political and financial power.

Liverpool, as an Atlantic port, benefited far more from the trade than any other northern English city.

But the numbers were higher in Bristol and Bath; and much, much higher in and around London.

 

Other major UK cities – Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds, Newcastle – barely appear. Which is not to say they didn’t also benefit from the Triangular Trade (with its iron and weaponry industries, Professor David Dabydeen of Warwick University said in 2007, “Birmingham armed the slave trade”) – merely that they benefited in a less direct way.

The LBS map, researcher Rachel Lang explained via email, is “a never-ending task – we’re always adding new people to the database and finding out more about them”. Nonetheless, “The map shows broadly what we expected to find... We haven’t focused on specific areas of Britain so I think the addresses we’ve mapped so far are broadly representative.” 

The large number in London, she says, reflect its importance as a financial centre. Where more specific addresses are available, “you can see patterns that reflect the broader social geography”. The high numbers of slave-owners in Bloomsbury, for example, reflects merchants’ desire for property convenient to the City of London in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, when the district was being developed. Meanwhile, “there are widows and spinsters with slave property living in suburbs and outlying villages such as Chelsea and Hampstead. Country villas surround London.” 


“What we perhaps didn’t expect to see was that no areas are entirely without slave owners,” Lang adds. “They are everywhere from the Orkney Islands to Penzance. It also revealed clusters in unexpected places – around Inverness and Cromarty, for example, and the Isle of Wight.” No area of Britain was entirely free of links to the slave trade.

 You can explore the map here.

Jonn Elledge was founding editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and on Facebook as JonnElledgeWrites.

All images courtesy of LBS/UCL