The Evolution of Retail

Using enthusiastic floor staff to woo them and exciting displays to wow them is at the heart of retailing to customers. Online shopping, on the other hand, owes much of its popularity to sheer convenience: we order products from the sofa, pay for them with a card or PayPal, then simply wait for a knock on the door. In the face of such convenience and speed, how are physical stores adapting to retain and bolster their share?

Try before you buy

Accenture recently found that up to 70 per cent of clothing purchased online is returned because it doesn’t fit. Bricks and mortar stores have the upper hand here; customers can try things to ensure a proper fit. Some retailers are revamping the indoor environment to provide the best experience possible. Ralph Lauren launched interactive fitting rooms from which the shopper can request more items and different sizes to be brought to them without having to venture back out. And both Ralph Lauren and fast-growing womenswear purveyor Rebecca Minkoff are using interactive mirrors to help customers flick through colours and designs without changing their clothes.

A more tailored experience

As technology handles tasks traditionally done by employees, the role of the in-store salesperson is also undergoing an evolution. In many upmarket stores such as Apple and US supermarket chain Wegmens, sales employees no longer spend time at cash registers but involve themselves instead in the customer experience through longer interactions and a more focused consulting approach. The rise in popularity of personal shopping is further evidence of a shift in roles. At Louis Vuitton and Harrods, personal shoppers assisting with gift lists, arranging clothing alterations and providing style advice.

Online retailers competing for space

Not to be outdone, certain online-only retailers are playing traditional physical stores at their own game by overhauling their shopping experiences. Doddle have introduced mini-fitting rooms at their collection points so that can try things on immediately before deciding whether to return them.

Large online retailers and couriers including Amazon and DHL are also changing the landscape in response to customer demand by taking up vast tracts of warehouse space. With space often at a premium in Europe, we may well see the skyscraper-style warehouses used in Asia cropping up here.

A two-way street to the same destination

Many traditional retailers suffered dramatically with the initial onslaught of online shopping, though some survived and thrived by adapting to technology while playing to their strengths. In turn, pure online vendors have sought to exploit the benefits that a physical presence can bring, particularly for less fungible goods such as clothing. We are in a new world, but satisfying customers remains a balancing act between cost and convenience on the one hand and an attractive retail experience on the other.

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