April 13, 2021 /Industry

What Stores Reopening in the UK tells us about the future of retail

April 12th was an important date in the retail calendar as shops reopened on a national scale. It was a highly anticipated day to say the least, as pent-up customer demand saw an 116.3% uplift in footfall in comparison to the same day of  the preceding week, Retail Week reports. 

The BBC reported that shoppers had started to queue at 7am in London’s Oxford Street outside Primark. However the fashion retailer saw massive queues on a national scale and extended its opening hours from 7am to 10pm to avoid overcrowding of stores. Just a few yards along the road of its Oxford Street location, department store Selfridges also saw lengthy queues, full of customers eager to get inside.

However, not only were stores reopening, we also witnessed Brown’s launch of a new store in London’s Mayfair. Dubbed as a ‘store of the future’, Brown’s managing director Paul Brennan shared in The Business of Fashion that ‘shopping is pastime’ and ‘stores are platforms for enabling experience and connectivity that are not available to customers online’. The retailer has thus moved away from the KPI of measuring success in terms of sales per square foot, but rather in terms of customer engagement and the length of time visitors spend interacting with in-store technology. So what does this tell us about the role of the store as we enter into the parameters of the new retail landscape?

Designing experience is essential for stores reopening

Stores remain to be important and people queue for good reason. However we cannot afford to be complacent here and there is an emphasis on the ‘good reason’, because this first and foremost must translate into experience. Buying Director for Selfridges, Sebastian Manes explained to The Business of Fashion that the role of the department store ‘is to be like a theme park’. Retail today must ensure that we actually ‘sell the experience of shopping itself’. The department store reopened on Monday 12th April with a new ‘experience concierge’ which offers everything from children’s parties to floristry classes. Alongside this, there was an outdoor SoulCycle studio and a Pangaia pop-up. 

Long gone are the days where retail is a place to buy products. We can do that online and we have spent nearly an entire year behind our screens doing and arguably to the point where we have screen fatigue. Brands must now place importance over the distribution of experience throughout their stores, thus both encouraging and rewarding people to taking the time to come into the shop. However, these experiences must be genuine and relevant to a brand’s core offering. Cafés and bars are nice to have but they are simply just one way of engaging with a customer through the art of socialising and relaxing. We can also educate through tutorials, lectures, seminars and workshops. We can wow and entertain through retail broadcast and live performances. The store is essentially an experience hub.

So what does this mean for brands as we move into the future of retail?

We can no longer look at retail as a form of product distribution. We must start looking at retail as a media channel in its own right.

Doug Stephens, The Business of Fashion

Mind-map experience. What does this actually entail for the customer. Are customers learning, watching, relaxing, socialising, eating or drinking. Is the experience intellectually stimulating, creative, spiritual or emotion?  Once we understand the experiences we want to create, we can link them back to a brand’s core values or product lines and then we can define the marketing funnel for this experience and how we wish to execute on these objectives. 

Before the pandemic, marketing was used to inspire people to come to store in order to buy products. However, we are fundamentally disrupting this model as stores are now platforms for marketing experiences. This essentially means that brands can use their store experiences as a form of content creation that they can redistribute and share within their marketing online. Doug Stephens wrote for The Business of Fashion that ‘we can no longer look at retail as a form of product distribution. We must start looking at retail as a media channel in its own right. In this case, the key metric for a store is it’s media value’.

Thus, as we move towards the future of retail, we will see brands hiring Chiefs of Media. Marketing strategies will incorporate the store as a platform of experience, as well as content creation and distribution. KPIs measuring store traffic will be made redundant and success will be determined by a store’s value of engagement. 

Want to know more about the customer experience trends and future of retail as stores reopen in the UK? Click here to download our report on The New Role of Retail.