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What’s next for modernizing physical retail?

By Kristopher Fraser


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Foto: Inexmoda

For close to a decade now, brick-and-mortar has been treated like it was some dinosaur that would slowly go extinct. It was like a cow someone was going to put out to pasture. It was your grandparent before you put them in a nursing home.

The rise of e-commerce and online shipping did chip away at some of brick-and-mortar’s position as the emperor of retail. People didn’t need to go to stores to shop anymore, it could be done from the comfort of their computer screen. Nowadays, mobile commerce is on the rise, as more shoppers are buying via apps on their cellphones and through social media platforms, like Instagram.

Brick-and-mortar needs to modernize to keep up with today's customer

The global COVID-19 lockdown accelerated the growth of e-commerce, which was only projected to have single-digit growth but exceeded double digits thanks to online being the only place to shop. Amazon was one of the very few retailers who saw growth during the pandemic lockdown.

Amazon being the only retailer who saw growth did prove something, though, for everyone else, brick-and-mortar is still a necessity. However, physical retail can’t be thought of the way it was before lockdown, or at any point in the past. The way consumers shop has changed, and just wanting to shop in person isn’t enough to continue traffic, conversion, and securing long-term consumers.

The digitalization of retail has advanced on all fronts, including physical retail. Customers want a full omnichannel approach to shopping, which can be as simple as the ability to buy online and return in-store. That is just the beginning of cutting the mustard, though.

Now, more consumers are looking for in-store mobile apps to help improve their in-store shopping experience. A Harvard Business Review study found that 73 percent of customers prefer to combine in-person and online experiences, while 57 percent say they’ve used a retailer’s mobile app while inside one of their physical stores.

Some companies that pioneered the use of mobile apps in stores include Gap and Nordstrom. Gap has a built-in feature on its app for customers to check stock at a local Gap store, where they can pick a location and a product to see if it’s available. Nordstrom has app-enabled their fitting rooms, where shoppers can reserve clothes to try on in-store. After an associate gathers the pieces and places them in the fitting room, customers receive a text letting them know their fitting room is ready.

Connectivity is also key, so retailers need to ensure their stores are equipped with strong Wi-Fi networks to keep customers. If a customer is incapable of using their mobile phone in a store, they are likely to leave.

One thing that is keeping customers happy in the wake of modernizing physical retail stores is mobile points of sale. Tap-and-go for contactless payments is also becoming increasingly popular.

The next big phase for modernizing physical retail is the adaptation of brick-and-mortar stores into mini-warehouses. As more customers want the option to buy online and pick-up in store, brick-and-mortar sales will not only serve as customer service hubs, but also grab-and-go warehouse-style hubs too. Stores will have to learn how to fulfill orders like warehouses to keep customers happy.

Brick-and-mortar is far from dead, it just needs to adjust with the times. The in-person shopper is still loving their stores, they are just expecting a new approach to the shopping experience.

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