A new era of retail

Just a few years ago, experts and analysts were predicting that by 2020, online retail would take over physical retail and drive it almost to extinction. Add to this an unforeseen global pandemic and people start to ask the question: is this the end for brick-and-mortar stores?

Before the Covid-19 outbreak, we witnessed a completely opposite trend emerge, where online retailers were strategically developing their physical brand expression as an extension of their online operations. For example, last year, Chinese retail giant AliExpress opened its first European store here in Madrid and more than 3,000 people attended the launch to experience something new (many of whom had camped outside for up to two days to be first in line).

The size of crowds who flooded the streets was not dissimilar to what we witnessed at the recent reopening of Primark stores, but for an entirely different reason. One of Primark’s USPs is that it doesn’t have an online shop, so when restrictions were lifted and stores reopened, they were met with an influx of returning customers who were looking for the retail experience that they had loved and missed during lockdown.

What we are seeing amongst our clients is more of a focus on the customer journey. The industry was already shifting towards experiential retail, including immersive, interactive technology that creates personalised content for the consumer. Although the introduction of social distancing measures poses its challenges, stores still have the potential to engage customers’ five senses by demonstrating what their brand looks, feels, sounds, smells, and even tastes like.

Design is a critical differentiator in whether or not a consumer has a great experience and a purposeful, distinctive store design gives retailers the opportunity to maximise their interaction with customers and express the inspiration behind their collections – generating engagement, creating loyalty and increasing their lifetime value to potential customers.

As humans, we need tangible experiences and as retail experts, we have the opportunity to work alongside brands to be creative, innovative, focused and explore new ways of generating distinctive in-store experiences for the customer of the future.