Once upon a time, starting a retail business began with securing a physical retail space. You had to find a location with the right amount of passing foot traffic, design your window displays to lure customers in, and use the mix of products and customer service to ensure people would keep coming back. But in a post-pandemic world, retail begins online.
Opening an e-commerce store has become so democratised, that literally anyone can do it in a matter of minutes. No need for experience, investment, or even physical products. Can bricks-and-mortar stores compete? Yes, but not without rethinking their approach.
The in-store retail experience is more relevant than ever in an increasingly digital world. The Raydiant report into the State of Consumer Behavior 2021 found that, given the choice, 46 per cent of respondents still preferred to shop in person rather than online, a 9 percentage point decline from the State of Consumer Behavior 2020 report results, but still a significant portion of the market.
So the e-commerce boom doesn’t necessarily mean the death of the in-store retail experience, but it does mean retailers need to think differently about what they offer consumers to maintain their appeal.
Replicating the online experience in-store doesn’t make sense. Instead, stores can become an opportunity for exclusive products, exclusive services, exclusive experiences, and exclusive ways to reward loyalty.
A sensory experience
Consumers now look to in-store shopping as an experiential opportunity. The rise of ‘retailtainment’ and in-store-only offers are helping in-store retailers stay relevant in an increasingly digital world.
Retail is fundamentally a sensory experience, something that’s lost when you’re adding things to cart hunched over your phone. It’s a chance to touch, see, handle, and even smell the products. To try things on and ensure they’re just right. To see colours in real life, rather than through a distorted online lens. To have a rewarding experience.
Adding exclusivity to these experiences means you can create intimate moments with your customers that benefit them and also benefit your brand. These moments build brand loyalty, and can turn those customers into brand advocates. They build brand affinity and establish a deeper emotional connection.
McKinsey & Co. states that successful retail experiences are those that are personalised to the greatest possible degree.
Luxury brands lead with exclusivity
Exclusivity has been around for a long time, especially amongst luxury brands.
- You can’t just walk into Hermès and purchase an iconic Birkin bag, you have to be a VIP customer with an existing relationship to even get a look-in.
- Louis Vutton gives you the option to monogram and emboss your leather goods, but only if you purchase in-store.
- Japanese bags from Porter Yoshida Kaban can be bought online around the world, but some of their products are available only if you physically visit their Tokyo store.
Now we’re seeing exclusivity roll-out across a wider range of retailers, who are looking to give themselves a competitive advantage.
What does exclusivity look like for your brand?
At July Luggage, we use our retail presence as a channel to soft-launch products, and to gain customer feedback and insights about our product and marketing developments. So while we sell products online, coming to one of our flagship stores in Melbourne offers exclusive opportunities, making it worth the time and effort to visit. And it gives us valuable access to our ideal customers.
For shoppers, being in-store is an opportunity to see real-life representation of the colour of our products and understand the size and proportions of each piece. To understand the features and benefits that might be harder to appreciate online.
Beyond this, we build demand by launching limited-edition products in retail first and offering special personalisation options you can’t get online; and this is a reward for customers who’ve built a relationship with us. Our in-store sales team is also trained to provide tips on packing and how to use our products – adding additional value to the experience.
Keep it simple
Exclusivity doesn’t necessarily mean bringing out all the options and investing heavily in award-winning creative experiences. Rather than trying to overwhelm with all the options, start with something simple.
Could you offer an exclusive ‘try in-store first’ on one of your products? Could you add an exclusive service offer in-store? Perhaps a chance to have a product altered or personalised? Is there a complimentary service that would work with your brand; for example, someone offering to assess a customer’s ideal colours as part of an exclusive personalised shopping experience?
An omnichannel approach
Strong e-commerce confidence is going to lead to smaller creative brands renting commercial space to explore new ways to market their business and build customer connection. The ideal is an omnichannel approach: exclusive opportunities in-store, paired with a seamless online presence.
By removing barriers to purchase, and creating a sense of loyalty and excitement around your brand through exclusive experiences, you’ll be on your way to building a sustainable business that thrives in an evolving retail landscape.