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Back in the day, the only way you could buy jeans was to walk into your local Sears and buy an acid-washed pair of Canyon River Blues. (Sure, there was mail order, but who ordered jeans from a catalog?) Today, the latest fast-fashion items are just a Wish away (or perhaps a higher quality brand) from the tap of a mouse or even your smartphone. In fact, everything is just a tap away.
In an age where digital storefronts are the norm rather than the exception, the sparkle of a slick ecommerce site is no longer a differentiator for retail brands. Once a revolutionary edge that catapulted small startups to international fame and established brands into digital dominance, online shopping has saturated the market to the point where it's expected, not extraordinary. What was once an expansive digital frontier is now just another checkbox on the comprehensive list of retail necessities.
Amidst this ubiquity of online shopping, forward-thinking brands are revisiting the roots of retail—the brick-and-mortar store—as a unique, even boutique, offering in contrast to what the internet cannot actually provide: tangible, immersive experiences.
The Resurgence of Brick & Mortar Stores
The landscape of retail is witnessing a tactile renaissance in the last few years. In a surprise turn of events as reported by Forbes, “brick and mortar stores grew faster than ecommerce for the first time ever” in 2022, outpacing online growth 18.5% to 14.2%. Part of this is due to the pandemic recovery, but so far, this doesn’t seem like just a recovery bounce, but more of a shift in consumer sentiment.
After all, 97% of Gen Z shop at brick and mortar stores and they are the future of consumer spending. Having been cooped up inside and online during their formative years, they are itching to interact with the physical world and that includes their shopping habits. The sensory engagement of a shopper as they walk through aisles, the tactile feedback of merchandise, and the personalized clienteling service are elements that an online store struggles to mimic even with the best technology available.
Uncommon Advantages to Brick & Mortar Stores
Everyone understands the obvious advantages to shopping IRL that we touched on a couple paragraphs ago. But there are some not-so-obvious advantages to consider as well that could inform your retail brand on how best to utilize your physical locations.
A Place for Representation
Physical stores possess the incredible potential to offer representation where it’s often lacking online. For minority groups and certain age demographics, brick-and-mortar stores can provide a hub that celebrates their culture and caters specifically to their needs. These spaces become more than places to shop; they serve as community landmarks where representation is not just visible but actively engaged. The physical presence of brands in diverse neighborhoods also sends a powerful message of inclusivity and commitment to all facets of their consumer base. Check out this conversation between Marketplace.org and Mimi Striplin, about creating a space for, in her words, “people that looked like me.” (Mimi is Black and Japanese)
A Place for Local Culture
Additionally, the geographical customization of physical stores enables them to serve as cultural microcosms. Unlike their online counterparts, physical stores can tailor their offerings, décor, and events to resonate with local communities. They can be a platform for local artists, a meeting place for community groups, or a hub for events that reflect the interests and passions of the neighborhood. This level of personalization creates a bond between the consumer and the storefront that transcends the transactional nature of shopping, fostering loyalty and a sense of belonging.
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Learn 4 major ways to use data to personalize your customers' experience with your brand, both in store and online.
A Place for Spontaneity
Brick and mortar stores have another unique edge: the power to encourage impulse purchases through novel offerings and instant gratification. According to Sam Vise, CEO of Optimum Retailing, “30% of a store’s revenue can be from products that customers weren’t there to shop for.”
The tactile experience of touching a fabric, the allure of a product displayed within an artfully curated environment, and even the scent of a store can tempt shoppers into spontaneous buys. Physical retail invites consumers to explore and discover, often leading them to items they might never have considered through a screen. This spontaneous discovery is a joy of shopping that's largely absent in the algorithm-driven suggestions of ecommerce.
Today, the reimagined role of brick-and-mortar stores is becoming increasingly clear. They are not the relics of a pre-internet era but are complementary to the digital experience, providing sensory engagement, personalized service, and a community presence that online platforms strive to simulate but can never fully replicate. For brands looking to stand out, it's not about choosing between digital or physical retail; it's about weaving them together to create a seamless tapestry of touchpoints that cater to a diverse, ever-changing consumer landscape.
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