The Future of Highstreet Retail is Giving Customers an Experience Impossible to Replicate Online

3 min read | |

The highstreet isn’t dead; it’s just having a break. The internet has disrupted the way we shop more than any other development in retail history. As a result, our main streets have seen rapid upheaval in the past 20 years. The excellent news for bricks and mortar businesses is that for many people, experience trumps convenience, and there are some experiences that online-only companies just cannot create.

Let’s set the scene. 

You’re in Milan. It’s late September. An Indian summer has taken hold in the past few days, and it’s an unseasonable 35 degrees celsius outside. Tomorrow you’re heading to Chile for a conference where they are still in the middle of their Southern Hemisphere winter, and a blizzard is afoot. You need a wardrobe update, and you need it pronto.

As you frantically search your wardrobe for anything that possibly could help you stay warm high in the Chilean Andes, you remember your friend mentioned that ‘cool’ new Woolrich store that just opened on Milan’s famous Corso Venezia. Within minutes you are on a Lime scooter on the way to the store (after you have an espresso first, of course).

As you walk in you, see all the parkas that your heart desires (and outer limbs require). Heavy ones, light ones. Reversible and customisable. There is only one problem. It’s too hot to try them on properly, and you’ve no idea which one will best address the cold you will experience when you get to Chile. 

Lucky for you, Woolrich thought ahead. 

In-store they have an ice room larger than most modern cafes. You dawn each jacket and enter the room, waiting three minutes each time while checking prices and reviews online to compare accurately. Ten minutes later, you leave the store safe in the knowledge you have the warmest jacket money can buy.

Customer experience

Woolrich realises that the key to a customer’s heart is not the rapid delivery of products with which they are unfamiliar. It’s in giving the best possible experience during the purchasing journey. This memorable ice room experience can only happen in-store, and in providing this, Woolrich has redefined the battlegrounds against their online competitors. Rather than a race to the bottom on price, creating additional value in the overall customer experience.

This example is extravagant, of course, but even the little things businesses can do for customers in-store but not online matter, and that should be a focus of business owners and managers. 

When walking in-store, a warm smile and nod hello is far more appealing than the same experience online, where any rapid flick of the mouse leads to a dialogue box asking you to join a mailing list. 

Suppose a customer has a negative experience with a product. A well-trained in-store assistant can address the customer more personably and more easily humanly resolve the grievance. The faceless nature of many online interactions and lack of context, body language and facial expressions can make this more difficult for online purchases and could lead to a vitriolic online review.

Bricks and mortar vs online

‘The wise warrior avoids the battle’— words from Sun Tzu and very appropriate in this context. There are many advantages of online-only retailers to consumers, but brick and mortar businesses should not compete directly with those. Instead, they should focus on their strengths (experiences) to highlight where online retailers are weak.

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