With consumers increasingly shopping online, brick-and-mortar retailers have had to step up their game to remind shoppers that the in-store experience is worthwhile, too.
Top-notch customer service, curated selections, enhanced dressing room experiences, and even mobile platforms are all viable options to help woo consumers inside.
Andrew Zgutowicz, stores operations specialist at retail consulting firm Kurt Salmon, says retailers are learning each channel is important and should play a strategic role in their overall offering.
“Leading retailers are taking steps to implement multichannel strategies that consider the needs of their consumers and how each channel can support those needs,” Zgutowicz says. “Initial results of those strategic efforts might suggest that for some retailers, the brick-and-mortar channel is not playing the role as effectively as it could. The average consumer satisfaction score for online retailers is 87%, which is 11% higher than for physical stores.”
The good news for these stores, though, is that most consumers still go out to shop. Top shopping venues are chain stores and mass merchants (24%), department stores (13%), specialty stores (12%) and off-price stores (8%), according to the Cotton Incorporated Lifestyle MonitorTM Survey. Just 6% of consumers buy most of their clothes online, although as smartphones and tablets become more common, that percentage has been increasing.
While just under half (48%) of all consumers love or enjoy shopping, shoppers age 13-to-24 are significantly more likely than those age 25-to-70 to embrace the experience (58% versus 45%), according to Monitor data.
Online holiday spending, meanwhile, stayed solidly in the double-digits, with sales roughly 15% higher than last year, according to comScore, which “underscores the clear strength of the e-commerce channel,” says its chairman Gian Fulgoni.
Dan Butler, vice-president of retail operations at the National Retail Federation, says mobile technology is driving new consumer behavior — as well as how retailers are addressing the change.
“Retailers are trying to make sure they connect with consumers via the right mobile apps,” he says, adding, “These apps drive shoppers into the store, and in turn drive the in-store experience. Some shoppers don’t like if retailers follow them on their cell phones, but retailers know people go to stores less often than they used to. So they ask, ‘How can we make it a better experience so you spend more time and make more purchases while you’re here?'”
On average, consumers shop in stores twice per month, and once online in the same period, the Monitor survey shows. Most of their apparel purchases are planned (71%) versus an impulse buy (29%).
But stores also serve as an inspiration for consumers, especially those prone to impulse buys. The Monitor shows that 45% of shoppers cite store displays and windows as sources for apparel ideas. Additionally, 7% of shoppers turn to salespeople for fashion pointers.
“You can do fun and fancy things, but you also have to do the basics of customer service,” Butler says. “Staff needs to be friendly, available and asking how shoppers can be helped. Stores also have to be neat, clean and well signed. Stores need to get the new goods out, get the trash out of the way and — mostly — take care of every customer.”
Rather than offering wide and deep selections of apparel, more retailers are adopting the “curated” approach. From national retailers Urban Outfitters and Anthropologie, to the independent Life:Curated in Brooklyn and UnionMade in San Francisco, these stores attract customers with an eclectic mix of apparel, art, home goods, music, and more.
“Integrating products into a setting is a modern way of packaging a style, filtering from the sea of options, and providing those who prefer that style a complete set of products that seem uniquely matched to their wants and needs,” Zgutowicz says. “These settings can also help improve the bricks-and-mortar customer experience. Ralph Lauren and Polo pioneered this strategy years ago, and it continues to be successful.”
Stores have also been improving the try-on experience. For good reason: in a U.K. study done by marketing researchers Opinion Matters for home shopping brand Isme.com, 58% of women said the dressing room experience left them feeling frustrated.
A number of retailers have embarked on dressing room renovations: Ann Taylor warmed its fitting space with chandeliers; Old Navy moved changing rooms to the middle of stores; and Macy’s has created changing “lounges,” replete with flat-screen TVs and upholstered seating for tag-along husbands or kids.
“Retailers see the fitting room as an opportunity to build sales because typically, if you can get someone to try on clothes, it’s likely they’ll buy them,” Butler says. Data from Envision Retail Ltd., of Surrey, England support this: shoppers who try on clothes have a conversion (to purchase) rate of 67%, versus 10% for those who do not use fitting rooms.
Currently, consumers spend about $53 each month on clothing, according to the Monitor survey. Those aged 13-to-34 spend more than those 35-to-70 ($58 versus $50).
Some retailers are experimenting with technology, offering virtual fitting rooms for those consumers who are simply too busy to try something on. Topshop uses Microsoft Kinect technology to give customers a video image of how clothes will look on them, while Brooks Brothers’ “Digital Tailor” at the Madison Avenue flagship in New York takes customer measurements with 3D image scans. And Macy’s True Fit technology allows users to create a profile by describing their body and clothes they already own and wear, and then delivering personalized fit and size recommendations.
Kurt Salmon’s Zgutowicz says virtual fitting rooms are a hot initiative that gives consumers “the benefits of the in-store environment with the convenience of the online channel.”
The store-in-store experience, where brands take over valuable space in a department store or larger chain, is changing, too. Butler says department stores are shying away from permanent shops.
“It used to be some of the shops secured key locations in a store’s floor plan, and installed signature flooring, lighting and shelving. But since what’s hot one season can change just a few months later, stores are now doing shops that can be relocated quickly — in case a different brand needs to be installed in the number one spot.”
Zgutowicz says stores-within-stores continue to draw consumers because they offer a convenient experience.
“As we look to 2012, we anticipate some retailers will increasingly seek to make themselves into these convenient mini-malls, with many different services and products under one roof.”