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When the physical sores where forced to close shop during the pandemic, we switched en masse to online shopping. Online sales went through the roof and the traditional brick-and-mortar stores feared for their existence. How do we get the customers back to the stores? And does online shopping pose a threat to the physical store or does it offer opportunities?
A store nowadays is more than just a point of sale where you go to for the purchase of a product. Customers want to experience products, in an environment which surrounds them in the world of the brand and product. Also before the pandemic we saw a rise in this tendency, also referred to as retailtainment or experiential retail. The expectation is for this to become more relevant than ever after the pandemic. Customers feel the need for human interaction and connection again after all this time spending inside and the contact limitations. Shopping for them is an escape from everyday life. With the design of the shopping experience, retailers will have to look for a balance between the efficiency shopping and the increasing wish of clients to distress, enjoy and make a connection. We see for example an increasing amount of stores to organise unique in store events, offer yoga classes or incorporate relax and meeting spaces in their store design.
Jack Ma, the founder of Alibaba said in the past: “There is no online or offline retail, there is just new retail.” This is not only true for internet giants like Alibaba, but also for smaller retail chains and individual retail companies. Retailers working with an omnichannel approach where online and offline seamlessly blend into each other, experience for both of them to be an extension and enhancement of each other. Successful shop owners turned during the lockdown to online and digital ways to stay in touch with their customers. We saw new ways of selling increase, like livestream selling and video calling with customers from the store for personal advice. The other way round it is important in the physical store environment to use online data and technology to provide a personal and integrated shopping experience. Think of interactive internet pillars and smart displays which can show customers a tailor made offer. The customer wants to be able to decide how he or she buys at every moment, nomatter where they are located. Whether this is though the website, social media, apps or in a physical store, the power lies in offering an integrated and constant experience where the customer won’t really notice the difference between the different channels.
The hart of retail remains the personal attention and service. Retailers who know to use online and offline to reach their customers in an effective way and address their personal needs, have a future proof formula. For the physical store to be essential to the ultimate brand and customer experience and offers added value thereby is out of the question. But if there is something this period of time has learnt us, it’s that online is indispensable as integrated part of the personal customer journey. Also, or maybe especially at distance.
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