The most notable effect of the pandemic on consumer habits has been the great shift away from physical spaces into the digital realm. The impact was so severe that household names like Debenhams couldn’t survive the seismic change. Ecommerce accelerated at an unprecedented rate in the face of lockdown, but two years later, this is old news.  

For brands, this isn’t the end for high street retail, but rather, an opportunity to rethink the way they connect with their customers to drive footfall back into physical spaces. Therefore, the high street isn’t dying, it’s being reborn.

Consumers step back into physical stores 

There are several contradictions to the headlines we’ve seen in recent times around in-store shopping. One moment, we’re hearing about the “death of the high street” caused by the rise in eCommerce, and the next, we’re told that 65% of marketers are investing in more engaging in-store experiences to attract people back to the high street.  

New data from M-Cube, which surveyed 250 retail leaders in the UK, revealed that the high street seems to be catching up. The study highlighted that the majority (31%) of respondents say most customers will return to the high street, with only some staying online. This demonstrates that there is still a desire to shop in-store.  

Arguably, while eCommerce offers consumers ease and convenience, the experience of in-store shopping draws shoppers to brick-and-mortar retail locations.  

At the same time, some brands struggle with offering seamless eCommerce experiences. Zara, for example, is now charging customers for online returns. This is likely to deter consumers from shopping online. This combination of factors has generated a stronger focus on in-store experiences. 

The modern retail experience  

 While there is a clear trend toward a ‘retail rewind’, as consumers go back to the high street, the digital sphere cannot be forgotten. Our data highlighted that over half (55%) of retail leaders are prioritising both in-store and online investment. With that, we’re seeing a ‘phygital’ trend emerge. After all, for retailers, the resurgence of the high street begs an obvious question: what does the modern consumer desire from the in-store retail experience?  

It’s difficult to determine exactly. On the one hand, many customers enjoy traditional in-store shopping. At the other end of the spectrum, new research suggests that GenZ’s could be anxious about shopping in-store. This is simply because retail was purely online for some time, and this has shifted many mindsets.  

Retailers must therefore be led by a combination of creativity and technology, propose new designs, and provide a new look and feel that combines the quality and immediacy typical of eCommerce, with the powerful sensations and attraction typical of the physical store. Retail is not black or white and must offer omnichannel experiences that allow consumers to move seamlessly between the online and physical world. This is how brands can attract all types of customers.  

Here are some of the high-street trends we’re seeing as a result. 

  • Immersive rooms are wowing customers 

Leading retailers are impressing consumers with experiential marketing to showcase their brand. Take a look at Dolce&Gabbana, which captivated its identity through its Corso Venezia 7 boutique room.  

Using performers, visual characteristics inspired by its fashion collections, and animated videos, they were able to create an all-encompassing and emotive experience for consumers. Consumers were also empowered with the opportunity to interact with the room, giving each customer their own personalised experiences.  

This type of immersive experience will grow to be fundamental in the UK market, as retailers continue to realise the value of creating better connections with customers. 

  • Physical stores are undergoing a digital revolution  

 The culture of shopping has been changed by the digital world, with platforms such as Tik Tok and Instagram encouraging new forms of interaction and purchase. The point of sale was formerly a physical space that provided access to the product.

Now, a physical store is the ideal means to provide an experience that involves each of the consumer’s five senses, plus a digital touchpoint as customers interact with brands via mobile. These experiences are richer, more contextual, and more gratifying in terms of emotions and information.  

Thanks to digital innovation, brands can enhance both space and time, transforming the store into multi-experiential hubs that also use technology to collect precious data. Immersive rooms, digital mirrors, touchpoints, smart tables, and multiple installations that are becoming more common, are effective as they can evoke a consumer’s empathy and emotional participation.  

  •  Retailers are recognising the power of in-store music  

Music has the power to influence many aspects of the in-store retail experience. Background music can make customers feel at ease and therefore prolong their visit to a store. Music also has the power to increase the performance of sales staff too, which can result in better relationships being formed between employees and customers. 

Brands, therefore, are able to create a ‘perfect sound’ for their offering. The definition of the sound identity starts from the analysis of the brand which is translated into music. The sound must reflect the brand’s values and fit the customer target audience to improve the shopping experience. 

The bottom line 

It has never been more essential for retailers to identify digital touchpoints and develop new interactions with customers in-store to build an extremely fluid customer experience.  

The bottom line is not that eCommerce is dead, but that the line between digital and physical experiences is very thin. As such, only the brands that can use the opportunities coming from the digital sphere – both in online applications and in-store experiences – will be able to attract all types of customers today. From more traditional consumers to GenZs, embracing a strong omnichannel strategy will be vital for retail success.  

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