What does the future hold for your brick-and-mortar?

Recently there has been a lot of talk about what will the showroom of the future look like. I thought I might weigh in on the topic, as it affects those of us whom make our living in brick-and-mortar showrooms.

Some seem to believe that the future of the brick-and-mortar showroom looks somewhat bleak. That as our younger generation become consumers purchasing retail goods, their affinity for technology will drive the bulk of retail purchases to online stores. I however have a different opinion and I don’t think the sky is falling anytime soon. To form my opinion I have not only looked within our industry, but also to mainstream retail for cues on what the future holds for the brick-and mortar showroom. I for one think if done properly the future looks very bright for your brick-and-mortar!

In an age when new technology and the growth of pure online-only retailers have industry analysts questioning the future of brick-and-mortar stores, what do you think major online retailers are doing to grow their businesses and gain market share? Why, opening up physical storefronts of course. The benefits that physical spaces provide make up three of the top reasons why online retailers are setting up shop, including: multisensory consumer experiences, strong, lasting brand relationships, and the human touch rules.

It’s no wonder they’re buying up real estate; the economics speak for themselves. According to a latest U.S. Commerce Department retail consumer survey, 78% of consumers prefer to shop in-store and they spend six times more in-store than online. This is reflected in the fact that the majority of all retail sales still occur in the physical store. In 2013, the U.S. Census Bureau reported that 94% of retail sales were conducted in brick-and-mortar stores, while just 6% occurred online. Physical stores are simply good business.

Multi-sensory Consumer Experiences

Nothing beats being able to touch a product with your own hands, feeling the material that it is made out of and seeing the minute design details – something that can’t be done online. In your store people should be able to sit in a tub to see how it fits, feel the spray of a showerhead, see how a faucet flows into their hands, and sit to confirm the height of their new toilet is perfect for them. A survey by TechCrunch online found that 73% of consumers want to try on or touch merchandise before they make a purchase. Physical shopping centers allow consumers to do just this — interact with a range of products to make informed decisions about what they’re buying.

Furthermore, physical stores have been busy retrofitting their spaces with technological advancements that make the in-store customer experience more efficient, which effectively eliminates the guessing games encountered online. Is the size or material not quite right? Or maybe it fits perfectly within your design, but you want to see other option or sizes available? These are solvable problems when you are shopping in a physical store.

I think faucets are the jewelry of any bathroom design. So let’s look at what an actual jewelry online retailer did to improve their business and relation with its customers. Online jewelry shop BaubleBar opened a brick-and-mortar showroom in Manhattan. Upon doing so the retailer quickly realized just how different its in-store shoppers are from its Web customers.

Shoppers suddenly paid more attention to un-flashy pieces often overlooked online. More women bought multiple necklaces that could be worn together. And perhaps most importantly, co-founder Daniella Yacobovsky said shoppers typically purchased three times as much merchandise as an online BaubleBar customer. “Having the opportunity to touch and feel our product is a big value,” Yacobovsky said.

After three years as an e-commerce darling, BaubleBar and many other Web retailing pioneers have discovered the old school benefits of having a brick-and-mortar store. Like other online retailers who have invested in brick and mortar, they have found that the in-store experience, which encompasses direct contact with products and a unique brand experience, translates into not only more sales and fewer returns, but an increase in repeat customers.

Many of you frustrated with the direction of your showrooms think that online is the answer to your sales woes. Well online is learning that what you already have is that answer to their woes. Am I saying not to incorporate the internet? No not at all, just that if you are having issues it may be you just need to tweak some stuff in your showroom first before diving into the abyss of online retailing.

Strong, lasting brand relationships

As we move from an age of transaction-based retailing to one of relationship-based retailing, American shoppers are looking for more than just products to buy. They’re looking to connect and establish a rapport with companies they give their business to. But it is not an easy task for online retailers to provide unique brand experiences to consumers when their main interaction is conducted through a computer screen or smartphone. This is why online retailers are looking to the physical store as an avenue to meaningfully engage customers and build strong, trusted and lasting relationships.

I have said it before, every avenue of our industry is truly built upon relationships. I personally have had customers that have become dear friends. I have seen my staff receive thank you gifts such flower, planters or even a reoccurring box of candy when their customer travels to England. Think about that for a moment. A sales person made such an impression on this couple, that every time these customers travel to England, they think of that salesperson fondly enough that they bring the salesperson something back from their trip. Amazing right?

That relationship can go both ways. One day this past year a couple that I had previously worked with stopped in to make selections for another project. As they made their way through the showroom looking at different products and displays they spotted a ceramic bulldog in one of our displays. They loved the little bulldog and went on to tell me how the husband’s nickname was “bulldog”! The wife even held the bulldog up next to the husband and said “You can surely see the similarities”? They wondered if they could purchase the ceramic dog. I explained why I could not sell them that particular figure, but told them I would watch for another one at the store I frequented. It took sometime but I scored another ceramic bulldog identical to the one we had in our display. We wrapped him up and put him in a beautiful box and hand delivered him to the customer. They were blown away by the fact that I had remembered to think of them and got it for them as a gift. Trust me – they will remember that simple act of kindness that cost me only my time and less than twenty dollars. Do you think kind of interaction occurs when someone purchases from Amazon or FaucetsDirect? Yeah, me either.

The human touch

Technology is a wonderful thing. It has changed our lives for the better in so many different ways and continues to do so. However ask yourself this. Of all the memories you have which ones are the most meaningful? Is it the day you got that new iPhone 6? Do you fondly remember the day you watched that amazing movie on your 65-inch LED television? Maybe you recall a meaningful interaction between you and desktop computer? Sounds silly right? That is because it is silly. We remember the interactions between friends and family. Our interaction with other humans will always supersede those of memories with our technology.

The same goes for a consumers shopping experience. No matter how far we have come or will go with technology, people will always desire the human touch. Who among you wouldn’t rather talk to a knowledgeable person directly when making a purchase? The only reason anyone selects the internet when purchasing something is generally based on price and price alone. My opinion has always been experience trumps price anytime. Some people just need to either be reminded or educated on that fact. It becomes our challenge to make sure we are the ones giving the subtle reminders or doing the education. Brick-and-mortar showrooms have the challenge of creating an experience for consumers to keep them coming back for and spending more.

Don’t get me wrong, I think we need to continue to incorporate technology into our showrooms as a tools to better serve our customers. However it will not be these tools that are the future of you brick-and-mortar stores. The experience you provide and the interaction your team has with their customer will be what keeps your customers coming back and telling their friends about you. So if executed properly the future of your brick-and-mortar showrooms look very promising! 

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