STORE SPACES

The most ‘inspiring’ stores are…

BY Marianne Wilson

Physical stores still provide a compelling retail experience — if done right.

That’s according to a new report by digital commerce agency Astound Commerce, in which 73% of consumers said they visit stores to touch and feel products. The report, “S.O.S” or “Save Our Stores,” combines the results of a 1,000 U.S. consumer survey with a mystery shopping analysis of 24 top retailers.

“The overwhelming narrative in retail today is that the physical store is on the decline, and that selling on Amazon and investing in ecommerce is the only way to be profitable,” said Lauren Freedman, senior VP of digital strategy of Astound Commerce. “However, our report found that from a consumer standpoint, a brick-and-mortar presence is still valuable for retailers. Retailers that have shifted their strategy to provide an engaging retail experience will stay afloat in the shifting tides toward digital.”

According to the report, retailers that best met customer expectations offered a mix of inspiring shopping experiences, valuable promotions, engaging customer service, and an efficient shopping experience.

Here are some highlights of the report:

• Inspiration: To maintain foot traffic in physical stores, retailers must ensure shoppers have compelling reasons to visit.

Apple, Nike, Sephora, Victoria’s Secret, Crate and Barrel, and Gap received the highest “inspiring” scores, with a strong mix of digital signage, welcoming storefronts, and a focus on products.

• Customer service: Service is a key component of a brick and mortar strategy, but the results in this category were mixed. Sixty-four percent of consumers reported poor customer service as the top reason to leave a physical store. In the mystery shopping survey, shoppers were only greeted at 42% of stores upon arrival.

But some stores excel in customer service. Achieving a top score were Amazon, Apple, Barnes & Noble, Coach, Crate and Barrel, Dick’s Sporting Goods, GameStop, Gap, Nike, Sephora and Urban Outfitters.

• Efficiency: The average time to checkout was only 2.21 minutes, and 21% of retailers offered mobile point-of-sale systems in hopes of expediting transactions. Similarly, retailers have improved the returns process, which is often a source of frustration for consumers. The average time to return a product was 1.92 minutes, and several retailers offered a dedicated returns section to further improve this process.

“The role of the brick-and-mortar store has never been under more scrutiny, so it’s encouraging to see retailers employing a strategic mix of service, branding, efficiency and promotions to make the most out of the in-store experience,” Freedman added. “In 2018, retailers must be vigilant and ensure their stores have a clear purpose and inspire shoppers, otherwise they risk joining the more than 5,000 stores that closed in 2017.”

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