No, we aren’t talking about Olivia Newton-John’s hit number circa 1981 – as the title above might suggest – although the sweatbands and neon-bright clothing appear to be threatening a comeback if you take a stroll through some of London’s edgier neighbourhoods. We’re actually talking about the retail property industry’s return to the debate: Do retailers need physical stores?
In the same month as Aldi announcing that it will launch online services, everyone from The FT to The Economist is also talking about Boden’s plans to open a suite of physical stores in the UK after 24 years of mail-order and (almost) online-only presence (apart from one store in Hanger Green, west London).
The conversation is no longer limited to who’s going digital. It’s been flipped on its head to take the opposite direction of travel, from digital to physical, into consideration. Founded in 1991, Boden has become one of the UK’s most successful e-retailers, particularly loved by the likes of Samantha Cameron, and has decided that it’s time to build upon its success with bricks-and-mortar. The brand’s sales have risen to nearly £281 million and now it wants to get (more) physical – but why now when our world is more digital than ever?
The benefits of complementary physical stores, to offer an omni-channel package to customers, were well-documented at this year’s British Council of Shopping Centre’s 2015 Conference. Today’s shoppers are demanding a seamless experience between the worlds of online and offline, giving both the opportunities to physically test out new products but still, for example, procure the product via the internet. Shoppers now also expect the ability to click-and-collect – ordering online, yet collecting in-store. It takes the hassle out of waiting at home for deliveries, and allows for trying on items and re-ordering immediately if necessary. At a strategic level, however, physical stores may be much more than simply a convenience for those who want to pick up orders.
Brand and product ambassadors
When retailers have reached dizzying heights of e-commerce success, are they really required to launch physical stores to further grow brand awareness? In short, the answer appears to be yes. The industry agrees that e-commerce success is complemented by a physical presence. One reason is that it allows the brand to grow its customer base, allowing the brand to reach out to those potential customers who may very well become aficionados but are not yet willing to shop online. There are many reasons for this, they may not trust online shopping or they may just be computer illiterate, but there is a wide-ranging demographic not fully up to speed with e-commerce.
Google opened its first UK store in London in March. Similar to what Apple has done with its stores, Google has strongly advocated the test-now-offline-and-purchase-later-online model. So, if physical shops aren’t necessarily encouraging shoppers to purchase products in the immediate, what value do they bring when customers visiting the store who previously purchased online are still going to buy what they want online? Product awareness, or ‘showrooming’ as pointed out in The Economist’s article. Lesser known products that don’t often catch the attention of die-hard fans can be put in the spotlight on physical shop floors.
Popping-up to test the waters
For retailers who are venturing into the physical world, temporary pop-up stores have proved successful. They have allowed introductions to existing online customers, as well as new customers, to give the retailer the ability to say – yes, it’s the right time for me and my customers to engage in a physical store or, no, this hasn’t suited us terribly well. Using pop-ups strategically has paid off in dividends for many retailers. They have allowed for business partnerships with complementary brands and given the opportunity for unknown products to be put in front of the high street’s biggest department stores. Candy Kittens, a confectionary retailer founded in 2012 by Made in Chelsea star Jamie Laing with a particularly strong London and online presence, has actively rolled out pop-ups across the country (as part of its marketing and retail strategies combined) to quickly establish a relationship with potential customers in areas that are not familiar with the brand.
Physical stores grow brands, they showcase unknown products and they bring convenience to savvy online shoppers. Their value is set to grow across the industry for the coming year…and here at Redwood, the team will be keeping our ears to the ground to be first in line when the next tech giant or industry newbie intends to get physical.