Canada: The Latest Fashion In Shopping Is… The Shops Themselves

Last Updated: March 7 2017
Article by Joe Morris

Most Read Contributor in Canada, October 2018

Retail is omnichannel and all around us - on our computers, on devices in our hands, on social media, in our houses (thinking of the Amazon Dash buttons). The convenience, excitement and richness of content and experience on these virtual channels poses a challenge for the traditional bricks and mortar shops. In response, shops are undergoing a redesign to keep shoppers walking in, whilst still clicking on their websites.

Here, we outline some of the emerging trends taking over the shopping experience.

Facelifts for shops

The blueprint of a successful high street shop is having to change in response to ecommerce.

In-store technology

Introducing more technology into the shop itself is the simplest way to blend the advantages of ecommerce with the physical shop. Selfridges have experimented with screens that recognise the product held in front of them and then display more information about that product, including information about the materials that the product is made from or technical specifications of the product. Dressing rooms at Ralph Lauren have become smarter, showing the shopper what they would look like in different clothes. In this way, retailers aim to combine the richness of content that can be delivered electronically without giving up the advantages of physical shape.

Shops as an experience

Some feel that shops need more excitement to compete with the richer experience that can be delivered online. Shopping as an 'experience' is an emerging trend where stores are designed to look more like homes, enticing the shopper to explore and spend more time in the shop as the space is designed for more use rather than merely making a transaction. Sweaty Betty runs yoga classes, circuit training, running clubs and other classes, often alongside the racks of clothes, with no retail transaction taking place. Starbucks has opened as 'roastery' in the US to allow its customers to get closer to the granules in their coffee and to try out other beans beyond their staple. Other brands are incorporating eating, drinking and complementary services such as beauticians within their retail space to encourage their customers to linger, and increase their basket size at the same time - John Lewis have teamed up with Rossopomodoro to provide an Italian restaurant within their stores and Debenhams have introduced Patisserie Valerie, Chi Kitchen (a pan-Asian restaurant) as well as Joe and the Juice to a number of their stores.

Showroom shops

Other retailers are changing the purpose of their shop floors to make the most of its natural advantages. The main downside to shopping online is the inability to get an item hands on, to touch, feel and try it on before buying. Using physical space as a showroom and the website as the till utilises the natural advantage of both channels to their full potential; it maximises the value of the (expensive) space, knowledgeable staff and gives the retailer scope to build a brand based on human-service, leaving the operational transactions, stock control and logistics to the lower overheads of the internet. Bonobos/ Jack Erwin in the US has used this to great effect.

'Right-sized' shops

Profitable retailing is no longer about having the biggest shop to pack in the greatest number of products and make the most sales. 'Right-sized' shopping, in the right location, is proving more effective. Smaller retail spaces in shopping centres are actually becoming more popular as the footfall is greater than at large, out of town retail parks. Ikea, not a name associated with small stores, has opened four Order and Collection Point stores with the Westfield Stratford City store being just 900m2 where it showcases just a few designs but aims chiefly to entice in shoppers passing by, which it can convert on its website. On an even smaller scale, pop up shops have proved popular. These capitalise on the ability to quickly spread word about something new through social media and to create excitement with low overheads through taking small amounts of space for a short period of time.

Concept stores

Amazon, having been the first pure e-tailer to open traditional shops, though are not content with shops as we know them today and are determined to reimagine what a shop could be. Their concept store which allows shoppers to fill their baskets and leave without passing through a till or appearing to hand over a credit card is probably the most radical re-design of the humble shop that we have seen so far. It completely removes the payment friction from shopping, a serious pain point when shopping online although not traditionally seen as a barrier in physical shops. However, the increasing popularity of contactless payments and e-wallet providers have already indicated this direction of travel.

The value of bricks and mortar

The fact that pure e-tailers, like Amazon, are starting to open physical stores demonstrates that bricks and mortar have a valuable role to play in the retailer-customer relationship, even for a retailer who knows as much about their customers as Amazon.

But just as TV did not kill the radio star, and email did not kill the postal service, so - contrary to popular belief- e-commerce is not killing physical shops. They might be turning into something very different from what we have experienced so far, but their value as a channel to customers is no longer in doubt.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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