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Eat, Play, Shop

The Re-Packaging of Retail

Creating the customer experience is nothing new to the retail industry, especially during the holiday season. Macy's has been wowing crowds with visits from Santa and flashy window displays since the early 1800s. As e-commerce continues to capture a larger share of sales, modern merchants must engage and entertain shoppers at a heightened level in order to succeed. By adding fun and memorable experiences like trendy cafes, cooking classes, rock wall climbing, bungee jumping, and live concerts, retailers are enticing consumers to stay, play, and spend.

As online purchasing increases and foot traffic falls, specialty apparel, electronic vendors and bookstores are strategically eliminating physical locations. During the coveted holiday season, e-commerce sales rose about 13% in November and December 2015, according to ComScore. In that same time frame, RetailMatrix reported store visits dropped 6.4%. According to an Elite Wealth Management report, cumulatively “there were 34 billion visits to U.S. stores in 2010; by 2013, that number plummeted to an alarming 17.6 billion.” 

Brick-and-mortar stores are recalibrating their business models through “Shoppertainment" by going all out to emotionally connect consumers with interactive and exciting elements such as digital showrooms, theatric displays, and community events. For example, IKEA hosts slumber parties, Home Depot has weekend workshops, and Reebok introduced a CrossFit gym and retail hub.

Melissa Bastos, director of market research for Cotton Incorporated, examines the evolution of how consumers plan, shop and buy, through new technologies and strategies. “We are seeing from the data that two-thirds of people prefer to pre-shop online, yet the majority complete the transaction in-store,” says Bastos. This ‘click-and-collect’ approach typically involves people conveniently researching and comparing online then picking up or returning items in-store. “Targeting purchases in this way limits the amount of time spent shopping in-house, which ultimately decreases impulse buying – along with the bottom line.” 

To stay relevant, retail developers must deliver a mix of dining, shopping, and entertainment options that attract adventure-seeking shoppers. Once in the store, sensory interactions with the product, in a stimulating environment, give customers a reason to stay longer and spend more. 

Some local commercial districts are re-packaging the retail experience to make shopping more of a journey than a chore, particularly during the holidays. Downtown Colorado Springs, for example, emphasizes unique, locally crafted items in an atmosphere with historic appeal.

“Downtown boutiques offer décor and clothing where you can feel the fabric, touch the textures, or smell spices and candles in gourmet stores and gift shops. You can even make your own bath bars in one shop,” says Laurel Prud’homme, communications director for Downtown Partnership. “These sensory experiences can never be replicated online.”

An outdoor skating rink, strolling carolers and festive window displays add to the fun holiday vibe downtown. Selfie opportunities abound with two dozen decorated, lit ‘Trees of Life’ supporting Pikes Peak Hospice. As an added draw, the City pays for parking Saturdays in December. 

University Village Colorado (UVC) does retail right by merging shopping with social interaction year-round presenting consumers with great options for meeting friends at eateries, or to grab a gelato and walk through a sculpture-filled plaza, take advantage of free Wi-Fi while lingering over a cup of coffee, or listening to live music at the outdoor amphitheater. UVC’s Overlook Park doubles as a trailhead with access to the Pikes Peak Greenway trail system where a running club frequently meets. 

“Customers no longer come to just pick up something and leave when they are engaged in activities like the Thanksgiving Pie School hosted at William Sonoma,” says Marie Fe Alano, coordinator at The Promenade Shops at Briargate, “Community events such as summer outdoor movies and social partnerships with the Empty Stocking holiday campaign also increase traffic to our tenants.” 

What will the next gen revolution of retail entail? “Imaginatively merging technologies and techniques, bringing online and offline together for a seamless ‘Omni-channel’ experience – whether the customer is shopping from a desktop, mobile device or in-store,” said Bastos. “Consumers get the best of all worlds and retailers can quickly collect data and adapt to meet preferences and expectations.” 

 “Connected stores” are already popping up with smaller footprints, little inventory and a digital infrastructure that informs and entertains shoppers real time. For example, high tech fitting rooms have ‘magic mirrors’ with interactive touch screens to watch inspiring videos, contact an associate, and even adjust lighting. 

Target’s Open Home concept in San Francisco described as "part retail, part learning lab, part meeting space," presents product demos, launches, and tech talks. Buzz abounds over Samsung’s 837 flagship in New York, an “experiential playground” where customers interact with tech toys, from phones to fridges, testing products and interacting with associates, but ultimately purchasing online. 

Changes in consumer behavior will extend well beyond the holidays; retailers who are ill-equipped to adapt will lose sales, cautions Bastos. Whether a big box retailer or a local boutique, merging technology with memorable experiences that engage the shoppers’ senses is what’s in-store for the future.