In an age where connectivity and convenience are king, digitization has ruled. It’s changed how we eat, work, socialize–even how we date. Most of all, though, it’s changed how we shop.
Once upon a time, if I wanted to buy something I would have to go in-store to get it. And if my local retailer didn’t have it? Tough luck. Retailers dictated the buyer journey and consumers followed, but today’s consumer sits firmly in the driver’s seat.
The role of brick and mortar within the path to purchase has shifted entirely in the digital age. In the past, retail stores were used as a means to an end–allowing consumers to have access to product inventory with ease. Stores were forced to dedicate a valuable percentage of their square footage to housing inventory for every SKU, leaving little room for agility within a retail strategy. While many argue the role of brick and mortar has diminished, it’s still a very vital, albeit altered, piece of the buyer journey.
Brick and mortar isn’t dead, it’s evolved.
What used to be the primary conversion touchpoint has become an immersive experiential play. Toronto-based ecommerce jewellery brand, Mejuri, is living proof of how brands are mastering the experiential brick and mortar play. Marketed as fine jewellery without the traditional markup pricing, Mejuri’s ecommerce store quickly resonated with Canadian consumers. After building up a massive following solely online, Mejuri knew it was time to launch their first brick and mortar showroom.
“We look at offline as a complementary channel where people can touch and feel the product, and experience the brand,” says Noura Sakkijha, Co-Founder and CEO of Mejuri. “It’s not transaction driven, it’s experience driven. The space itself looks and feels like Mejuri, and you can purchase product in-store and its delivered next day. It’s our way of being in front of customers in the real world–not because online isn’t working, it’s really more of an extension.”
Sitting in the heart of Toronto, the Mejuri showroom is dripping with Instagram-worthy aesthetic, allowing consumers to physically step inside the world of Mejuri for the first time. Equipped with stylists to provide support, the showroom allows consumers to physically try on the jewellry. According to Noura, this has been huge for consumers who are familiar with the brand but wary of buying without trying:
“We’ve found that many of the people who come into the store have already heard of Mejuri, but wanted to touch and feel the product. We also have events and activations in-store to provide an experience, like piercing parties and tarot card readings. On average, our customers spend about 35-40 minutes in-store.”
Retail stores today are being leveraged for something entirely different than localized warehousing: they provide tangibility. In a world obsessed with digitization, brick and mortar provides shoppers with the chance to physically interact with the product and brand itself.
Canadian-born temporary tattoo company, Inkbox, is a homegrown example of how brands are leveraging brick and mortar as an extension of their online presence. After seeing incredible success from their online store, the brand created an offline Inkbox Tattoo Parlour that allows consumers to come in and experience the thrill of getting inked without the permanency. This movement of brands starting online and adding experiential pop-up stores at a later stage is quickly becoming the new normal.
“In the beginning, small brands moved online to avoid paying rent, but now Facebook ad costs are essentially online rent,” says Inkbox’s Co-Founder, Tyler Handley. “As Facebook ad costs continue to rise, we as small brands are being squeezed out. This has caused an influx in direct to consumer brands moving to offline channels in order to add the physical aspect back into the customer experience.”
We live in a “choose your own adventure” era that allows each consumer to decide which path to purchase fits them best, and it’s the retailer’s job to adapt. Today’s shopper can decide when, where and how they’re paying for product on their own terms.
“With younger generations, it’s really interesting,” says Handley, “they’re actually moving back towards the retail side of things. Spending all day on their phones has really led them to crave that in-person play that allows them to touch and feel products again. They see our products on Instagram or E-commerce and say ‘I’d love to see this in person’, so having a physical tattoo parlour has really helped with that.”
Besides being used as an experiential marketing tool, brick and mortar has also become a great customer service touchpoint as well. Rather than wiping out the brick and mortar experience entirely, the digital age has enhanced its process, allowing stores to be more agile than ever. Data collection through digital channels has allowed retailers to create a more personalized and engaging in-store experience that adapts to each individual consumer.
“Retail spaces can’t just be a store anymore, they need to be something that elevates the brand and the online narrative. You have a couple of big players like Amazon and Target, but there’s been a steep rise in direct to consumer online brands who are creating offline experiences,” says Handley. “We see the future of retail being small, curated storefronts that feature trending direct to consumer brands.”
As retail continues to evolve, ecommerce and brick and mortar channels will continue to intertwine. Brands will continue to push the limits of brick and mortar, tearing down the two-dimensional walls of branding and allowing consumers to step into their world.
While digitization may have changed how we live our everyday lives, it has also played a crucial role in highlighting our need for tangibility.
Retail never died, we simply uncovered its true superpower: human connection.
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