BRICKS & MORTAR IN AN E-COMMERCE WORLD

On the 19th May 2001, the “bricks & mortar” retail world changed forever - even if we didn’t know it then. On that date Apple opened it’s first stand alone store in Tyson’s Corner Shopping Mall in McLean, Virginia - near Washington D.C. They also opened a second store in the Glendale Galleries in Glendale, California. on that same day.

Many believe that the stores were designed by by Steve Jobs, but they weren’t. The stores were conceived by a Mr Ron Johnson.

Prior to Apple, Ron Johnson was the Vice President for Merchandising at Target Corporation. Steve Jobs hired him to develop the stores for Apple, after he had instigated an innovative collaboration between American Architect, Michael Graves and Target In 1999, resulting in Graves designing “designer” kettles, toasters and small kitchen items - which transformed Target from merely being a retail discounter, to a destination design store that put Target into second place, as America’s favourite discount department store. A collaboration which lasted for 13 years.

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Although the Apple Stores have evolved in appearance since that first store opened, their core principals set into motion a retailing phenomenon - that is still ongoing today.

Apple’s largest, initial hurdle to overcome was, how to fill the size of the store they wanted, with the very small selection of products that they had available, at that time. Initially, they went along the conventional route of selling software, games, digital cameras and limited accessories etc; together with their then small range of core products. As it turned out, Apple eventually turned this limitation to their greatest advantage - by utilising the space, for customers to try out multiples of each item that were on display - which has evolved as one of the main “draw cards”, in Apple stores today.

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They still sell a small number of accessories however, they are confined to display stands, mostly at the rear sides of the stores - although now, they sell most of these items online. What can you sell on your website, to entice customers to come into your B&M store?

They also eventually eliminated counters between the staff and the customers, with the “Genius Bar” function - which was a long high counter, now being carried out on various consulting tables in the store and each staff member being able to ring up the sale and print or email a receipt, from their hand-held terminal.

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Naturally, when a retailer becomes very successful, others attempt to imitate that success. A few have tried with the Apple concept - but none have achieved any sizeable success. The reason being, that they mainly focus on the superficial elements of the store design and don’t understand the entire package that has become the Apple Culture and the relationship they have created with their followers (customers).

Can a retailer, that isn’t selling shiny new - in demand tech gadgets or have a “bottomless pit” marketing budget, achieve a similar result? - possibly not. However, if the following concepts are implemented, they may see a measurable improvement in their bottom line.

Understand that embracing e-commerce, is the way of the future - the web isn’t going away - however, it will be used in association with bricks & mortar - and not instead of. Apple or Amazon (Amazon are in the process of opening hundreds of bricks & mortar stores in America) wouldn’t need physical stores, if e-commerce was considered sufficient.

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Create a retail environment that is based on educating the customer about your product, company and your brand - and the benefits they will get by using them. This is easiest done using an interactive store display, similar to the units produced by PERCH INTERACTIVE perchinteractive.com out of New York. If your stores sells a variety of different brands, create a “backstory” or history for your store.

Consider a theme for your store design, that relates to the product/s you sell - the store design should not just be the aesthetics you like, but should imply a story that’s easy to imagine - and can be reinforced by graphic displays.

“Lettuce Entertain You”, a restaurant chain formed in Chicago in 1971, now has 130 restaurants throughout the USA, with 60 different themes - each one with their own story-line - its not a fake background, just an amusing bit of fiction, relating to each individual store. Who doesn’t love a good short story? What could yours be?

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There is a high probability that your customer has researched your products / store online, before walking into your shop. Create a store design that has a similar feel to your website , as giving them a familiar feeling in the store will make them more comfortable and relaxed, when they walk through the door..

As a retailer, you will know that many people will come into your store to just browse and not buy anything. However, that’s a big plus for you, as in the first instance they were drawn into your shop - once inside, they viewed what they were interested in - but were not ready to make a purchase on that occasion.

The plus for you is this - if they had a pleasant experience whilst browsing and were made feel welcome, there is a good chance that they will come back. Now that they have been there once, the next time it will be easier for them to come in and then they may make a purchase. (that’s retailing 101 isn’t it?). Generally, about 5 contacts are needed with a person, before they feel completely comfortable with your store.

So how to improve the chances of getting them to come back? - consider giving them a “thank you for visiting” card in a beautiful envelope - and offering an appropriate discount or become a store ambassador with some perks, on their next visit.

An incentive could also be given - for them to sign up for your newsletter. (it’s easy to create a simple one, if you don’t already have one).

The aim is to make the customer feel comfortable, important and at home in your store - by a combination of store design, interactive information, staff attitude and incentives.

In the end, the age old adage ‘people buy from people they trust’, is still very true today and it will be long in to the future - however, in the changing world of e-commerce the main requirement for retail success, is to re-engineer the retailing experience, in the direction the world is heading.

Are you’re ready to bridge the gap between e-commerce, bricks and mortar and to explore the new retail directions?

To continue the conversation, please contact

Robyn & Peter Rektor Mob: 0438 709 970 Email: design@designfocus.com.au