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Two More Signs That The Online / Offline Experiential Gap Is Narrowing

On Tuesday, we looked at some of the ways in which the offline retail space is taking inspiration from their online counterpart to create slicker, more engaging in store experiences. By sidestepping some of the traditional lows of IRL shopping (who wants to queue in 2019?) and deploying smart tech that has a tangible purpose beyond gimmack or novelty, such as instore chatbots which stockcheck and locate your items instantly, bricks and mortar stores are stepping up their game.

Today we consider a couple of other trends that are helping bring personality to the shopping experience, with the 0on and offline realms working in harmony for the greater good of the customer.

The Rise of In-Store Customisation

Instore customisation has a theoretical advantage over its online counterpart – there’s something more tangible and personal about the experience shoppers are seeking in the first instance, and being able to physically experience the item that’s being customised reduces fear about how something might feel or look, increasing the buyer’s confidence in investing in a custom piece. 

Having a customisation option that’s only available in-store can be a great draw, but again, we see many flagships launching with on-site options for these kind of personalised products even when similar options are available online. Converse notably launched an IRL version of their “Blank Canvas” initiative (where else but New York City) with the intention of injecting energy and buzz into their basement space. Brandon Avery, Converse’s global creative director of direct to consumer, said “We like to say it’s the best kept secret that everyone knows about. It’s democratic, but elevated and premium.”

Online tools that help visualise a finished custom item (particularly if AR is judiciously deployed) will doubtless drive traffic and keep visitors lingering a little longer on your site, but offer an additional in-store customisation option and, presented with the opportunity to see their creative vision brought to life before their very eyes, we’d wager conversion was more successful, especially if the seeds of an idea have already been sewn online.

Gen Z shoppers are often typified as being after something hyper-personalised in the shopping stakes. While previous generations were swayed by heavily branded items, this is about an expression of personality beyond just conforming to type, and it’s a loyalty driver; build something you can’t get anywhere else, and they will come. 

Respect For The Power Of Community

One final aspect of note; an increasing hunger for community and connection in today’s digital world is starting to bridge the gap between online followings and instore collaboration. Brands have always attracted tribes, and despite the recent focus on recruiting legions of digital cheerleaders, physical stores provide something of a ‘lightning conductor’ to bring like-minded brand advocates together. This lifestyle element of store design is now often baked in, with companies such as Anthropologie running regular instore talks and creative workshops, and Sweaty Betty hosting their own work out classes or using their stores as the start and endpoints for their free running clubs. While these activities doubtless help feed into a strong online social strategy, there’s something very powerful about making your store a focus for something of value beyond a purchase, with memories, and even friendships being created.

Again, Shopify keeps pace here, having launched their own bricks and mortar destination in LA last year, as a hub for the creative and entrepreneurial community. From educational programming, through to pop ups featuring local brands (see below) and access to helpful business-boosting facilities such as a podcast studio, they prove the value of coming together to learn, create and indulge in a little retail therapy.

A New Age Of Experience

While offline stores have undeniably been playing catch up in recent times, it’s evident that better understanding of customer expectations and desires are starting to pay huge dividends. It certainly appears probable that many of the lessons learned from the online space are translatable, and as stores start to take action to address the ways in-store experience can fall short of the high standards online retail has set, we’ll be watching closely to see what further innovation this drives.

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