Are brick & mortar stores dying? The trends and trials of retail 2021

Are brick & mortar stores dying? The trends and trials of retail 2021

Every few years this question pops up – whenever someone’s gotten spooked about the market or there’s a season’s lull in spending.

The answer is categorically no. Spending is up, but how and where we spend is always changing, adjusting to the tastes of the market and what kinds of experiences our customers are looking for. It is – as it always has been – survival of the fittest.

In tough times, the investment in innovation is what keeps you ahead of the pack. We’re all looking to make 2021 better, bolder, and stronger – so what does that look like?

Go digital

One thing’s clear: we’re going to see a lot more digital integration in the coming year. This is something I hinted at in an earlier piece – the blend of ultra-high-tech and rustic that merges the traditional shopping experience with the latest innovations. Certain fast-food burger joints have been pushing this trend for a while with their touchscreen displays that allow you to order, customise and pay for your meal without speaking to a rep. That’s just the beginning, though.

Some exciting tech that we’ve seen on the market blows this out of the water, with a kind of digital ID that recognises who you are when you enter a store – linked with your loyalty cards, for example – and recommends you to products that compliment your previous purchases. Remember those black socks you bought last week? This new suit would go great with that. Or near offer, at least!

Some retailers have mastered this for online purchases but making it a part of the personalised experience in store will give your customers another reason to browse your shelves.

Experience reigns king

The experience is remembered long after the cost is forgotten.

A thousand years ago, before the GFC of 2008-09, before all the bookstores were replaced with the likes of Amazon, retailers would invite customers in to browse and sit and experience what they had on offer. You could easily park up at a bookstore in a comfy armchair for an hour or browse the shelves. That’s coming back.

Now, you don’t just run in to try on a pair of shoes or buy a phone – you get to live the experience of shopping with that brand. Retailers are creating more welcoming and more aesthetic environments that are places to shop, places to be seen shopping, and places to experience. Kathmandu has a community board and a phone charging station at their new Newmarket store (which we were lucky enough to fit out); a lot of service-based retailers are (re)introducing breakout areas and comfy seating into their stores. That’s the experience-led focus in action, enticing and retaining customers as opposed to just selling and sending out the door.

Getting both digital and brick-and-mortar right

When Datum was young, I told my wife off for making online purchases. After all, we were in the business of retail fit-outs; we needed to support brick-and-mortar! 

But these days, I get that physical stores aren’t going anywhere – and neither is digital. Anyone who’s digging their heels in the mud and pretending otherwise is selling themselves short, because online and brick-and-mortar working together in tandem is the way of the future – and you’d be as foolish to neglect one as you were to neglect the other. The trick is utilising both well.

The retailers we work with are as busy online as they are in their most successful physical stores. Treat them not as two distinct entities, but different sides of the same coin. Both should speak to your brand and to the presence you’re creating – they should share an aesthetic, a style, and a sense of innovation that gets the ‘wow’ response from your clients. If online offers quick flick-throughs of the entire catalogue, retail allows you to touch and feel and smell the products. 

With that in mind, you can still expect me to be trying on a pair of shoes in-store, since online hasn’t figured out that one. At least, not yet.