Are physical stores still relevant?

Every week seems to bring yet another breaking news story about failing retailers and mass store closures. So much so that it would be easy to assume that bricks-and-mortar retail is on its way out. Contrary to speculation by the media and disenchanted consumers, I believe the high street shop is here to stay – and this is why.

Revival is already happening overseas

If you don’t believe me when I say there is a future for physical stores, take a look at Seoul in South Korea. In this crazy modern city, some retailers have taken in-store experience to a new level. Stylenanda Pink Hotel & Pink Pool Café in the Myeongdong district of Seoul is one of the world’s most Instagrammable stores. Contrary to its name, this isn’t a hotel, it’s a fashion and make-up store but the theme is taken to the extreme with each floor having its own unique style and personality. Generation Z shoppers are in their element in this quirky retail landscape set around a lobby, laundry, hotel bedrooms and Pink Pool Café and they can’t wait to share details of their visit on social media.

Another great example of retail 2020 is the Olive Young flagship store in the same district. It relaunched at the end of last year after analysing all the customer intelligence it had gathered during its first five years of trading to create the store of their dreams. The Myeondong emporium features huge mirrors and allows customers to try product freely and experiment. It is surprising how many retailers forget the fundamental principle of getting to know the customer and giving them what they want.

Giving customers what they want

Knowing exactly what your customers will want to buy in three or six months’ time is a real challenge. Sadly, so many retailers default to buying the bestsellers in an agent’s catalogue rather than questioning what will give them the best return in their locality or market. It may feel safe but in reality, this sort of buying behaviour is exactly what leads to store closures.

Shoppers will leave home to find something they can’t get anywhere else or to visit a store that is full of new ideas. That doesn’t mean retailers have to throw out the old completely to restock with shiny new brands but it does mean letting go of some of the things they have traditionally stocked. Whatever line you are in, you will know which brands you always stock because they are the ones customers always ask for. The problem is, those customers will ultimately buy these commoditised goods online or elsewhere because they can. If a physical store is to survive in the long term it needs to be finding ways to differentiate.

Introducing newness and variety

Make sure visitors see a definite difference when they walk through your door and can see immediately that you also stock exciting and unusual products that they can’t find anywhere else. Look out for upcoming trends, particularly British brands or locally made goods. Not only is this more interesting for your customers, it’s also more sustainable.

Better buying experience

As well as good sourcing practices, retailers can improve things even further if they streamline customer experience and the buying process. Clear pricing and knowledgeable, helpful staff can be all it takes to make it easier for customers to buy. Look at your opening hours too and consider whether earlier or later opening times might appeal to more customers. It is all about making shopping as easy as possible for them.

Matt Hopkins is founder of retail sourcing specialist The Great British Exchange which works with forward-thinking retailers and talented British producers to bring newness and variety to the British high street.

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