The development of immersive shopping experiences as a result of e-tailers opening brick and mortar stores is the way to saving the high street. By Lizzy Drewry
In recent years, High Streets across the UK have been struggling. Many retailers have also been portrayed negatively in the media, making the headlines for posting significant losses. In early April 2019 alone – ‘The Retail Gazette’ published the following articles: ‘Moss Bros swings to £4.2mil loss’, ‘Waterstones boss says retailer “frankly not profitable enough” to raise wages’ and ‘Mike Ashley slams Debenhams’ rescue plan as “not workable”’.
However, this need not be the death of the high street and respective retailers. Approximately 85-90 percent of retail takes place in brick and mortar locations due to the desire to visualise, try-on and feel products before purchasing them (The Retail Gazette). Many companies are recognising this and are adapting their business models by carrying out significant strategic transformation projects. This involves closures of less profitable stores, opening in better suited locations and bringing concessions into stores. Marks and Spencer’s, for example, are currently carrying out a business-wide transformation of this nature, bringing third-party concessions into store such as opticians. Similar ideas have been seen within Grocery – Sainsbury’s has dedicated 4000,000sq ft to third party concessions, including partnerships with Clarks, Specsavers, Patisserie Valerie, Timpson, Jessops and Sushi Gourmet (Luke Tugby, Retail Week).
The digital age has changed the nature of shopping. There is now a need to modernise business models and adapt to customers desires, making for a more interactive shopping experience to blur the lines of digital and physical retail. Excitingly, pureplay e-tailers are beginning to do just this and are opening their own brick and mortar stores. E-commerce brands are aware of the need to attract and entice their audience and are therefore interlacing digital touch points and apps with their physical presence. They are viewing this opportunity as more than just a space to sell products, but rather offer functions to take the consumer beyond shopping. For example, the luxury travel company ‘Away’ (who have just opened their first London store) host events including concerts and yoga classes. Similarly, The Cherry Moon (an online fashion retailer for luxury and emerging brands) are launching their first physical site in May 2019 with a similar theme – featuring an in-store bar area which will also be used as an event space (Grace Whelan, Drapers).
The hugely successful fashion e-tailer Missguided opened up its first store in Westfield Stratford in late 2016. The store created a completely different experience to any other in the shopping centre. The Retail Gazette published an article setting the scene of the new store. Created by agency Dalziel and Pow, it was designed to mimic a television studio, with the ‘On-Air’ concept reflecting the experience of shopping. ‘live’ as opposed to online. Whilst the store encouraged sharing on social media (with ‘selfie’ opportunities across the shop floor), there are ports for social interaction in store. Instead of hiding its fitting rooms in the back, the area is front and centre, complete with a pool party-themed lounge space so that people can socialise while trying on clothes. They also played on the idea of their ‘unicorn delivery’ and sell ‘unicorn water’ from a vending machine. Fun, innovative ideas like this make for an exciting, new ‘insta-worthy’ shopping experience and entice customers to spend longer in store.
Amazon has opened four cashier-less Amazon Go stores in America, as part of a trial run for a larger scale expansion of the business – which envisages 3,000 such stores by 2021 (Paul Taylor, Techspot). The incentive here is time; you simply need to enter the store with a pre-installed Amazon Go app, grab your goods and leave. No queues, no waiting. With the level of time and financial investment in this technology, it seems inevitable that we will see it in action in the UK very soon.
Additionally, the luxury fashion platform ‘Farfetch’ has envisioned their store of the future, which goes beyond the gimmicks of photo booths and ‘selfie mannequins’, but is rather aiming to improve retail productivity by capturing invaluable customer data and enhancing the interactivity between shoppers and sales associates. Ideas include an RFID enabled clothing rack, a digital mirror allowing customers to view their wish-list and select size and colour, and a mobile payment system (Vikram Kansara, Business of Fashion).
The push for stronger physical presence from online start-ups such as Away and The Cherry Moon as well as giants such as Amazon has sought greater exposure and a boost in visibility and sales. Whilst being a necessity for apparel, accessories and furniture companies for it enables customers to try before they buy, it also enables shopping to become a fun and interactive experience. This turns shopping into more of an event than it has ever been before, and will draw consumers to the high street, entice them to visit locations and brands they perhaps wouldn’t have before, and spend longer in each destination. If the conventional brands of the high street are willing to modernise their stores to align with the immersive e-tailers, it is possible we will see a decline of negative articles in the news and rather a boost in the profitability of high streets.