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Trend pieces about the death of retail come out weekly it seems: Toys R Us shutters, Sears files for bankruptcy, RadioShack closes, malls are dying. Millennials and Gen Z don’t want to shop in stores, retail experts claim. Yet, we see digitally native brands entering the physical space at high rates: Warby Parker is set to open 95 locations in the next 5 years, major shopping areas in Los Angeles and NYC have streets lined with digitally native brands, and Amazon is opening stores. Retailers of the past may be disappearing, but we are seeing a reinvention of this segment: stores that blur digital and physical and focus on resonating with their target consumer, rather than one message fits all mentality.
When traditional retailers and brands launched their online presence, it was seen as a mere extension of their physical presence: another way to increase sales, and have shoppers continue to spend more. In practice, this meant they viewed their customer as a transaction, not someone to earn loyalty from which has left many brands with bankruptcies while digitally native brands recognized an opportunity to resonate with their consumer and provide experiences. As retailers like Toys R Us and Sears shutter, other major retailers have taken these trends and repositioned their digital presence. Consider Walmart’s recent website redesign: it focuses on a personalized and localized experience, enables brands to tell their story more effectively, and removed an emphasis on in-store initiatives like Roll Backs. Walmart reported a 40% growth in ecommerce sales following their massive digital experience investment.
In-store shopping remains the predominant purchasing location for most Americans: 90% of sales still occur in brick & mortar stores. There are purchases that consumers are still wary of purchasing online: major household appliances, automotive, everyday groceries. What consumers want is the ability to do research online about products, then purchase in store. To that point, a 2017 Deloitte survey learned that one-third of consumers prefer to purchase from a brand that has a both physical and digital locations. When a consumer feels confident and empowered with the information needed to purchase, they can go into a physical store to purchase. This requires brands to be vigilant about delivering the most up-to-date and accurate product information across digital channels: digital influences 56% of in store purchases.
Shopping is an experience, if done properly. Millennials are more likely than other generations to shop even if they don’t buy anything because it’s fun. The generation that prefers spending on experiences rather than material items wants to be engaged when they walk into a store. It’s why digitally native brands opt for pop-ups centered around events and activities: Casper’s NYC showroom has a “Dreamery” where shoppers can pay for 45 minute naps, or the handbag maker Dagne Dover offered free manicures and kombucha at their NYC pop-up during the holidays. These types of events and experiences help foster a relationship with the brand: you will have positive feelings about them and in turn, when it’s time to purchase a new mattress or bag for work, consumers will think of them first.
While we may be saying goodbye to iconic retailers of the past, the opportunity for both traditional brands and retailers to retell their story and provide consumers with experiences across the digital and physical shelf that capture their loyalty remains. Looking at how digitally native brands engage with their audience should be a moment of reflection: how can we showcase our brand in a way that is fun and shows the customer we understand their needs?
Caroline Egan is the Content Marketing Manager at Salsify. When she's not writing about how to win the digital shelf, she can be found waking up early to hit a work out class or cooking up a storm.
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