The Retail Experience is Changing

For today’s brick-and-mortar stores, shopping isn’t just an activity anymore — it’s a full sensory experience, transforming shopping into a journey through a wonderland of high-tech delights. And for retailers around the world, this altered-reality shopping experience might help bring people back into the stores and lure them away from armchair shopping through e-commerce websites.

Walk through any retail aisle today, and you’ll see shoppers with their heads buried not in the merchandise, but in smartphones and tablets, either doing a bit of comparison shopping or texting friends to share finds. When it comes to mobile devices, savvy retailers have now developed an attitude of “if you can’t beat them, join them” and are finding new ways to integrate smartphones, apps, e-commerce solutions, and social media platforms into the physical shopping experience.

Competing With E-Commerce: How Stores Are Luring Shoppers Back

In this digital age, retailers know that they need to be able to sell a total experience — one that shoppers can’t get by staying home looking at a computer screen. The best way to do this is to embrace technology, making it an ally rather than an e-commerce enemy.

Thanks to virtual and augmented reality tools, physical stores can now offer shoppers a wealth of sensory experiences that go beyond the tactile sensations of feeling and touching the merchandise. For example, tech-savvy stores such as Nordstrom and Ikea are integrating e-commerce platforms into a comprehensive physical shopping experience that seems to merge science fiction with shopping. At Nordstrom’s, shoppers can visit virtual reality stations with avatars modeling everything from suits to sunglasses; while over at Ikea, shoppers can use augmented reality tools to see how a sofa will look in their living room.

Personal Shopping in the Digital Age

Decades ago, sophisticated retailers offered personal shoppers to help navigate customers through the pitfalls of choosing gifts and career wardrobes. Today, these personal shoppers have transmogrified into digital marketing gurus, telling shoppers about the latest trending brands on Instagram and Snapchat. Likewise, a new generation of “influencers” — shopping advice bloggers — are helping to dictate shopping choices by recommending products and brands that, soon afterward, will take social media by storm.

One of the trendiest innovations to emerge in recent years is the pop-up store — a phenomenon that arguably owes its very existence to social media.

Pop-Up Stores: A Social Media Success Story

Pop-up stores have actually been around for nearly 15 years now — one of the first was created by designer brand Comme des Garçons in Berlin in 2004 — but the concept has been fueled mightily by social media sites such as Facebook and Instagram. The announcement of a new pop-up store is virtually guaranteed to create a social media marketing blitz, leading to lines outside on opening day.

Today’s pop-ups have become huge influencer events, generating a wealth of Internet publicity. While pop-ups were once primarily the province of independent designers and indie brands, department stores have lately entered the fray — notably Nordstrom, which recently introduced its “Pop-In” series of themed pop-up stores curated to popularize specific brands. Likewise, iconic brands such as Nike and Adidas have notably opened a number of pop-ups featuring super-hyped-up tech marvels and interactive innovations.

The pop-up phenomenon has also introduced some eye-opening pairings. In March 2018, cosmetic company Glossier created a pop-up store at popular San Francisco eatery Rhea’s Café, enabling shoppers to nibble on chicken sandwiches while choosing lipsticks.

The upshot of all of this proves one thing: Thanks to technology, the brick-and-mortar store isn’t dying. Rather, it’s getting a much-needed overhaul, making it more compatible with the brave new digital world of the 21st-century shopper.

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