There was a brief moment after the rise of when it appeared that ecommerce might replace traditional brick-and-mortar stores for a variety of products and services. But we’ve subsequently learned that despite the convenience of ecommerce, today’s shoppers still want to kick the tires, touch the products, and try on the clothes and shoes before they buy. Consumers are drawn to the marketplace. They still enjoy the physical experience of shopping, but they also want the convenience and ease of ecommerce and omnichannel shopping. Smart retailers are embracing the challenge of omnichannel shopping in creative ways.

For me, that realization was small but profound: I had some unframed pictures that I wanted to hang in my apartment. I remember being drawn to an pop-up store in San Francisco’s Union Square. I hadn’t considered online shopping for such a personal purchase, so the pop-up was the perfect answer.

The pop-up featured a selection of different types of frames and matting so you could touch the products and get a sense of the quality. The pop-up also featured a “design bar” with hands-on support to help me choose the perfect frames for my prints. I chose the frame I wanted and then selected the colors from an iPad display. My new, beautifully framed prints arrived a few days later. I had just experienced a winning retail strategy. Image courtesy of SF Gate.

As someone who is perpetually fascinated by the changing landscape of the retail industry, I thought I’d share some insights about what it takes to create a winning strategy like this in today’s ever-changing marketplace.

Build loyalty with omnichannel shoppers

The winning retail strategy today is one that combines physical and online shopping. Physical stores remain the preferred channel for shoppers to explore, try on, test and purchase new products. This explains why many online retailers, like, are investing in physical stores.  Shoppers also prefer in-store pickup over home delivery, and they prefer to return products to physical stores. But retailers are quickly learning that omni-channel shoppers—those who frequent both physical and online stores—are driving growth.

Omnichannel customers shop more frequently than single-channel customers, and, according to a recent study by IDC, omnichannel shoppers “have a 30 percent higher lifetime value than those who shop using only one channel.” Higher lifetime value is associated with brand loyalty, and research from ATKearney shows that “brand loyalty is directly correlated with retail channel usage.” Shoppers who use more than one shopping channel are 15 percent more likely to recommend a brand to their friends and social media followers.

Use technology to customize the shopping trip

One of the many benefits of combining brick-and-mortar shopping with omnichannel marketing and ecommerce is that it allows brands to shrink the footprint of their physical stores, in part because they don’t need to keep as much inventory on hand. The pop-up store I discovered in Union Square was the perfect example. It would have been impossible for to display its complete inventory at the temporary pop-up location, but by leveraging iPad technology, the friendly design experts helped me custom-frame the perfect prints.

At the same time, consumers today prefer shopping small. They’re just not as interested in one-stop shopping in impersonal department stores that offer something for everyone. Shoppers are more interested in frequenting stores with carefully curated products that meet their unique needs.


General Store. Image courtesy of Boutique

It’s incumbent on the retailer to reduce inventory while still retaining the right assortment of products in the physical stores to drive additional sales and increase customer loyalty. It sounds like a complicated task, but the process is made easier by new technologies and the troves of customer data that are available to inform merchandising strategies and optimize in-store selection.

Retailers are going to continue to be able to shrink their retail brick-and-mortar footprints because there’s so much new technology available to streamline inventories and to gain more detailed intelligence about what shoppers want in each physical store location. I’ve written about retailers
using virtual mirrors, digital screens, and iPads to make the shopping experience more engaging. These tools also generate data about shopper preferences.

Another example is RFID technology. RFID technology tracks the shopper’s behavior in-store using radio frequencies to capture and monitor product information. (RFID technology is also being used creatively by luxury brands to thwart counterfeiters!) The technology isn’t new, but its usage has been growing. RFID tags, which are embedded in price tags and product labels, can be read from a distance of up to 30 feet. So, when I pick up a red sweater, the RFID tag reports the activity and lets the retailer know. If I put it back down, it will tell the retailer. If I go into the dressing room to try it on, it will tell the retailer that I’ve tried it on. If I take it to the cash wrap and pay for it, it will tell the retailer that I bought it.

RFID tag

RFID and other in-store tracking technologies, combined with shoppers’ online search data, has the potential to vastly improve store-level inventory planning, which enables retailers to get much more granular and efficient in getting the to the right footprint with their brick-and-mortar locations.

Reach millennials by creating a memorable experience

Let’s face it: We all want to enjoy a memorable experience while shopping. But millennial consumers, defined as those who were born between 1981 and 1997, demand experiences. They spend less on things and invest more time and money on group activities, concerts, and athletic events. Why? It’s partly because they entered the job market during the recession, and therefore are more careful with their money. It’s also because they like to show what they are doing, rather than what they bought, on social media sites like Snapchat, Facebook, and Instagram.

Any successful brick-and-mortar retail business knows that it’s important to give customers a memorable experience in an immersive, dynamic environment by changing the physical spaces constantly to give customers something fresh and new.

Concert at Burbury. Image courtesy of Business of Fashion.

For some brands, like boutique fitness studios, restaurants, and nail and beauty salons, the service is the experience. But for more traditional stores, what does it mean to offer your customers an experience?

Pay attention to shoppers like me

I like the convenience of online, but I also like to try before I buy by touching and examining the merchandise. Retailers who understand people like me will succeed because omnichannel marketing is here to stay. They need to pay attention to the brands I buy and make it fun and interesting for me to visit their stores. I’m not just buying an item—I’m buying an experience—and the successful retailer understands that and adapts accordingly. Those retailers who adapt will survive and thrive in a world where consumers increasingly change channels.

Anjee continues to be an insatiable collector of all things retail. She’s a student of culture living next door to future shoppers, whose fleeting trends constantly change the retail landscape … driving retailers, landlords and developers crazy!