The role of the store is evolving.
Just a decade ago, a brick-and-mortar store would often be described as a physical location designed to offer items to customers. Of course, the store was a complex entity, with retailers spending hours deciding on layouts, planning the presentation of items and working out other details, but customer expectations were rather linear.
The rise of new digital technologies and omnichannel retailing
, however, has affected how many merchants perceive their brick-and-mortar locations. They are no longer just points of sale designed to fuel conversions. Customers have different expectations of physical stores, but even more importantly, savvy and efficient retailers have more options for leveraging their shops to help them streamline operations.
Meeting customer expectations
For customers, the brick-and-mortar store is no longer a place they simply go to browse. They now have the Internet, which allows them to research all of their purchases well before they actually make a purchase decision. Therefore, a modern physical store needs to exist as a means to improve the customer experience.
Several retailers have already begun embracing the shift in shopping trends by establishing their associates as product experts and capitalizing on the sensory advantages of shopping in-store, such as letting customers test or handle products before committing to a purchase. Merchants are also improving the convenience of the in-store shopping experience by enabling different fulfillment options, such as buy online and pick up in-store or drive-through features.
"Some stores will serve as immersive experiential centers, as technology will enable shoppers to control their shopping experience
," RetailingToday contributor Margot Myers asserted. "These stores will be venues for collaboration and experiences that cannot be provided online. The retail environment will be more about the sensation of and context in which a product is to be used, rather than the product itself."
There is no blueprint for creating the modern brick-and-mortar location, so retailers will have to take a close look at what their customers demand and respond accordingly. For some, it may be an immersive, social experience with associates guiding shoppers through the purchase. For others, the ideal brick-and-mortar experience is simply getting to test drive an item before making a purchase.
Improving operational efficiency
Ecommerce is accounting for a greater portion of retail sales. In fact, one study conducted by the Centre of Retail Research and RetailMeNot found that 55 percent of the American population now shops online
, and the researchers expect the share of eCommerce sales at online stores to approach 20 percent by the end of 2014.
Fulfilling these orders can be a complex task, made even more difficult when dealing with post-recession budgets that may not make operations as seamless as possible. However, many retailers are responding by making do with what they have as a way to maintain cost efficiency. This means making their physical locations more than simply a place for customers to buy goods.
Retailers can use brick-and-mortar stores as order fulfillment
facilities, enabling them to quickly pick and process orders and deliver them to nearby customers who made online purchases. This not only cuts down the wait time for online shoppers after completing a transaction, it also allows retailers to maximize the use of their inventory.
The role of the brick-and-mortar store is changing rapidly. Despite the rise of mobile and online shopping, it is still the pillar in the shopping experience. However, retailers must identify how they can leverage their physical stores to benefit their overall operations - the things merchants can do with these locations is evolving, and a savvy retailer will always be on the lookout to improve how the off-line experience can augment the online experience.