Bricks and mortar stores are now about one thing: experiences. When previously many retailers did not invest much beyond store layouts and SKUs, nowadays it’s more about concept stores and crafting unique brand experiences that draw customers in, to leave them with fond memories as well as new products to enjoy. 

For us, clients are becoming smarter with their bricks and mortar spaces. Understanding that by spending more time considering their retail strategy, including locations, design and the quality of experience they’re creating, they’re fostering loyalty and attention – the two biggest commodities in modern retail. 

With many retailers consolidating after the pandemic, the days of mass rollouts seem to have been replaced with focused growth and investment in the right time and place. Instead of having a store in every centre, and every region – they’re using data to determine the best approach to reaching their audience where they know they are. 

The addition of click-and-collect to is another excellent example of a change in approach to store development. Take Accent Group, which counts Platypus, The Athlete’s Foot, Skechers, and Glue amongst its 19 brands, for example. Every store has become a mini distribution centre, resulting in changing store designs where back-of-house takes up more space than ever before, and stock can be easily moved from store to store as per customer demand.

The online trend hasn’t been the apocalypse that was once forecasted for physical retail. Online has to work with bricks and mortar, and e-brands need to have a bricks and mortar presence to support the online component. Data shows that worldwide, physical retail continues to outsell ecommerce in 2021, the ratio was nearly 4:1. Some niche retailers have reported their online sales doubling (if not tripling) following them moving into bricks and mortar. 

Aussies love to shop in-store

Australia, as a shopping nation, is active. Australian consumers prefer the touch and feel of the product, to connect with the brand tangibly, and also to experience the instant gratification of getting a product in their hands straight away. 

The people get out and about to centres much more than in similar nations for multiple reasons – habit, experience, and as a genuine part of their social calendar. Look at what landlords are doing in the food courts and entertainment areas: more money has been spent in these zones than in the traditional retail floor space, and for good reason. Centres understand that they are about entertainment as much as they are about shopping, and retailers need to leverage their place within that psyche.

Improving the overall experience outside of the stores has a halo effect within them, increasing foot traffic, dwell time and spend per person.

How retail space is used 

The use of retail space has changed dramatically over the past five to ten years, with changes to layout bolstered by a focus on experiential shopping and in-store theatrics. 

Ten years ago, food and beverage design dictated there be no visibility into the kitchen or behind the scenes. Today, kitchens are regularly on display, with some restaurants incorporating kitchen bar seating where customers can literally watch their food being made in front of them. 

Along the same lines, pop-ups are a huge market for launches of new products, with brands free to try out new centres and new brands without being tied down by lengthy leases or mortgages. Most big shopping centres have long waitlists for popups, with brands keen to get in on the experiential action. 

Starting from scratch

Even though it can seem overwhelming at first, there is a wealth of opportunity for retailers who do not yet have a brick-and-mortar store. Popups are a great first step for brands that want to experiment with the in-store experience without being tied down. You don’t need to have stores everywhere; you just need to have the key locations that will be where your customers are.

With the right partner on board, your first store doesn’t have to be a ‘learning exercise’ for future stores. For retailers looking to hire contractors involved from the ground level up, it can be helpful to find partners like Storepro who can cover leasing, design and delivery stages providing guidance and support across the entire process.

To beat the rising cost of short-term digital marketing, retailers must focus more on long-term growth strategies and remember that brick-and-mortar retail isn’t just a conversion channel, it’s an acquisition channel. Brand experiences are the most important activity to build your customer base, and there’s no better place to create a memorable experience than inside a physical store.

Paris Young is head of brand at Storepro.