After two years of shopping largely online, consumers’ renewed desire to visit brick and mortar stores, touch and feel products, and obtain immediate gratification has increased optimism among retail landlords, according to experts participating in a recent webinar sponsored by Placer.ai. To leverage this phenomenon, however, retailers will need to uncover new ways to engage customers and elevate the in-store shopping experience.
Nothing can replace the feeling of touching a product which is why there will forever be a place for brick-and-mortar stores, according to Heather Adams, Shopper Insights Manager for Reckitt. “Consumers always had a strong desire to visit stores in person, which is why they did so as soon they felt safe to return. We all have an innate physiological need for discovery, instant gratification and the pleasure to take the product home immediately. Challenges still remain for retailers to lure customers back, although the most loyal always stick with you.”
“While consumers had to learn and rely more on e-commerce during the shutdown phases of the pandemic out of necessity, it seems very clear now that people definitely missed the physical retail experience as foot traffic is increasing across the board of all retail categories,” said Bill Holzman, Vice President, Retail Leasing for St. John Properties. He added that the “omnichannel” and “multi-channel” trends that arose well before the pandemic are extremely important for retailers to embrace as the post-pandemic era begins.
“Research shows that most consumers will now rely equally on both e-commerce and physical shopping balancing priorities on price, instant gratification and convenience. This will certainly put a value on being able to physically touch and feel products and to achieve the feeling of instant gratification. That is what will always make shopping exciting,” Holzman added.
Reworking the shopping experience
“The predicted retail apocalypse never materialized, as companies and restaurants pivoted quickly with the introduction of new apps, delivery models and curbside pickup,” added Holly Smothers, Category Team Lead, Reckitt. “Some have even labeled the past two years as a retail renaissance with the forced reworking of the shopping experience. Those that listened to their customers and reacted accordingly have fared the best.”
Paul Weinberg, Leasing Associate for Klein Enterprises, explains that retailer decisions over the past two years have proven that physical retail stores are here to stay. “There may have been some initial hesitancy for retailers to make long- and even short-term lease commitments once the pandemic hit, but time has shown that demand never truly waned and, if anything, the industry as a whole has become even stronger and more innovative as a result. As they say, adversity builds character, and it is clear the retail industry built up its character and will to survive and thrive by having weathered the pandemic.”
With change, comes the opportunity for creativity
“Retailers are being challenged to discover less obvious ways to connect with consumers and reexamine the roles different products play in their lives,” Adams added. “For example, because people are cooking more meals at home, this means they have more dishes to wash, which provides a product placement opportunity for retailers. Or, because someone watched a TikTok video which touted new ways to clean their bathroom, they learned of a secondary use for an existing product. This acceleration was always bubbling below the surface but, because of market volatility, these new product uses represent an opportunity.”
Adams explained that, during the healthcare crisis, pet ownership soared and investments in the home, including improvements and the purchase of new furnishings, skyrocketed. “Savvy home improvement retailers reacted to this trend by adding pet food and supplies to its shelves to take advantage of increased consumer traffic. More cleaning supplies have also been added. Many relied on data to track consumer traffic and purchase trends when making product addition decisions while remaining acutely aware of the risk involved to enter new product categories. At the same time, many big-box retailers lacked the ability to change and suffered because of it.”
The curbside pick-up of products and food quickly became the norm during the healthcare crisis and the habit has slowed but not evaporated as the retail environment normalizes. “What we are seeing now is consumers picking up their orders and then walking into the store because they forgot something,” Adams explained. “And now, retailers have to uncover ways to encourage this practice.”
“Big-box stores such as Circuit City and Sears lacked the ability to change and paid the price,” Smothers explained. “With employees now returning to the traditional workplace, we are starting to see new habits formed regarding where and when this group shops during the day. We are in midst of another big shake-up and retailers need to take notice and react accordingly.”