Online shopping is more commonplace than ever before. Why should brands care about what’s happening in stores?

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There’s a seductive simplicity to online shopping. Buy a family’s worth of gifts without stepping inside a mall? Sure, hand me the phone. Try on a pair of glasses virtually without visiting an optometrist? Sounds a lot easier. Pick the toppings for a late-night pizza dinner? Hold my beer.

For anyone paying attention, this shouldn’t be surprising. In fact, the growth of digital storefronts has been expected for years now, and more retailers have been thinking omnichannel instead of multichannel.

So riddle me this, Batman: If so many companies are pushing forward online, then why are giants like Amazon investing in physical spaces like Whole Foods? Why is Warby Parker—whose business model is based on offering fashionable eyewear at bargain prices online—opening physical locations in select cities across the United States? And why is Domino’s advertising remodeled locations when its bread and butter is delivery?

Easy. Because the in-store experience still means something in 2019—and beyond.

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Taking a blended approach to merchandising

Back in 2015, despite growing omnichannel preference, McKinsey & Company predicted that 80 percent of U.S. retail sales would occur in stores in 2020. While the percentage may have fluctuated a bit since then, most consumers still visit stores in some form during their shopping journeys—and not always in a linear fashion.

For example, shoppers may begin their search online but stop by a store for more information or firsthand impressions. Others will buy online only to return that product in-store or exchange it for another. Others will visit stores and decide to purchase, but finish the transaction online. Apparently, consumers aren’t averse to the in-store experience—not even those picky millennials.

What’s critical is giving shoppers something for the time they spend in-store; something that’s experiential in delivery but practical within a larger multichannel strategy. In other words, more than just another coupon or blowout sale (although those do drive traffic).

Creating a valuable in-store experience can involve anything from clear and legible wayfinding signage to a knockout endcap display that passersby can’t help but notice.

For some of our retail clients, these methods make plain sense. Shoppers can read all they want about the world’s lightest laptop, but it’s another thing entirely to hold it in your hands. At the end of the day, a 4K display makes a much better impression in person than any written review could possibly convey.

But in-store experiences can integrate digital ones, too. Shoppers can download special promotions and read online reviews of the product they’re considering. And if they have further questions, they can get immediate feedback from a retail associate—something that can’t happen online unless you have a talented learning AI.

Tailoring your in-store appearance can and should be done to a scale that makes sense for your business, target audience, and sales strategy (assuming you have one). Stores like Story, a boutique shop in New York City, realign their entire store to a revolving theme by altering layouts and inventory on a regular basis. These continual changes to the store make it seem more like an art gallery than a traditional retail space. Exclusivity generates foot traffic, and brands compete to have their products featured.

Such radical transformations aren’t necessarily the future of retail, but they’re further proof that what happens in-store matters.

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Securing brand loyalists, now and later

A blended strategy is about more than look and feel. It’s about finding shoppers and converting them into reliable fans in an era that doesn’t always value brand loyalty.

Like so many aspects of retail, merchandising can be tailored to specific audiences. When audiences value videos and pictures, you integrate them across multiple touchpoints. When your audience values feedback from reviews and social media, you encourage in-store shoppers to post their thoughts. In fact, they’re probably doing so right now.

The fight for consumer attention is fiercest in the millennial and Gen-Z markets. Combined, these two represent the core of digital and multimedia experiences in the retail space. They are the future—whether brands like it or not.

According to a 2017 consumer survey by Accenture, Gen-Z haven’t formed brand loyalties, with 40 percent purchasing more than half of their apparel and electronic items online. At the same time, 60 percent of Gen-Z shoppers prefer purchasing in stores.

This means that brands who don’t ignore the store have the most to gain, converting “just-looking” shoppers into future repeat customers.

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