The End of Days
It has been a troubled few years for retailers, and whispered warnings from inside the industry have become impossible to ignore. Indeed, the Atlantic has declared “The Great Retail Apocalypse of 2017”, while Forbes asked mournfully whether brick-and-mortar is “Obsolete”. Demands for disruption and innovation have reached fever pitch. As e-commerce has boomed and the retail landscape has transformed accordingly, such adaptation has become a necessity. Online shopping, while still representing only a fraction of total purchases, is growing at a remarkable rate of 12-35% depending on the market. In the UK e-commerce is predicted to comprise 30% of total retail within six years. Perhaps even more remarkably, by 2020 Alibaba, Amazon and eBay will control 40% of the globe’s e-commerce.
In this evolving and highly competitive landscape, how can smaller retail brands survive? Should they jettison physical stores altogether, or do they still have a role to play?
From rural strip-malls to Manhattan’s avenues, it has been a disastrous two years for retail.” Derek Thompson, The Atlantic
However, responding to these seismic changes needn’t mean the death of physical retail, but instead a shift in how we think about it. As consumers look online for speed and convenience, smart brands are using bricks-and-mortar as an arena for immersive experience and brand-building. In particular, flagship stores are becoming “brand museums” or hubs, leveraging technology such as creative digital signage to fully communicate their brand positioning. But how can brands practically implement this strategy, and how can digital signage and other technology help?
[Brick-and-mortar] isn’t dead, it’s evolving.” Kerry Kramer, Boston Retail Partners
A New Strategy: Creating a Brand Hub
Closing shop completely might prove premature; however, there is a need to change the in-store focus from cold, hard sales figures and product, to story-telling and theatrical, immersive experiences.
The physical stores of the future will act as marketing channels and venues for brand experience; flagships in particular will entertain, educate, offer connection and co-creation, beyond mere consumption. They will be the brand’s mother ship, a dynamic hub to communicate what the brand stands for.
Leading brands such as Nike, Apple and Tesla continue to play with retail conventions in their flagship stores, while digital-first brands like Glossier and Everlane are creating physical spaces that are a place to experiment and experience as well as purchase. This reflects not only the threat of online shopping, but also a growing consumer desire for experience over just material goods.
Digital Signage: Dynamic, Engaging and Centralized
One effective method to implement this new strategy is the creative use of in-store digital signage. This technology has three attributes that mark it out as useful for retailers trying to create their “brand mothership”: it is dynamic, engaging and centralized.
We know that humans respond best to visuals, in their purchasing behaviour as in life. Digital signage offers a responsive and technologically innovative way to tell branded stories in-store, allowing for a more immersive experience. It is dynamic and can change day-to-day and hour by hour – essential in a retail landscape that is rejecting the traditional fashion calendar in light of consumers’ demands for greater responsiveness and relevancy. Finally, creating a digital signage network across all physical stores means that any messaging portrayed will be highly centralized and consistent. Any nuance between stores will be a choice, rather than a result of time lags or errors.
It is certainly a new era for retail, and brick-and-mortar must “adapt or die” in the face of it. However, with a strategic realignment over how in-store is viewed, and the clever adoption of technology such as digital signage, the physical shop can not just survive, but thrive.