The Retail Apocalypse That Never Was: What’s Really Next for Brick-And-Mortar Stores

Robin Barrett Wilson

It’s no secret that e-commerce is transforming the retail landscape as consumer preferences lean towards more digital, convenient ways of shopping. Some stores have closed, and some brands have disappeared – but the retail industry is far from experiencing the sort of apocalypse that industry analysts feared.

Ultimately, the rise of e-commerce is just another twist and turn in the otherwise ever-evolving journey of brick-and-mortar stores. Online sales may have more than doubled in the last decade, but the majority of retail revenue continues to come from physical locations.

With the ease and convenience of online channels, it may be hard to believe that consumers still frequent brick-and-mortar stories. But according to the SAP experience management survey “Couture Connections: Fashioning Improved Customer Loyalty with Experience Data,” 85% of shoppers indicated that they still value the human connection of one-on-one customer service and support.

The immutable human bond between retailer and consumer

We’ve all had at least one excellent shopping experience – online and in real life. But honestly, nothing captures the heart and mind of consumers like a well-trained salesperson who demonstrates genuine care and concern. Such interactions are much more than building a sale and finishing a transaction; they’re about establishing a relationship of trust that is highly personal and memorable.

I experienced my own “human” retail moment during a recent business trip in New York City. As a retail veteran myself – starting on the sales floor and eventually owning my brand – I know an exceptional store experience when I see one. But nothing prepared me for how deeply moving one shopping trip can be in our otherwise hyperconnected world.

Caught in a winter day with unusually warm weather, I knew that all the sweaters and long pants I had packed were not going to keep me comfortable. During a lunch break, I decided to walk three blocks from the office to visit a store with a display window of edgy, yet feminine styles that caught my attention.

As soon as I walked through the door, I shared my personal story of coming to the city without the right kind of clothes. I was hot and uncomfortable – and just wanted a simple dress that I could wear for the rest of the day.

After hearing my story, one of the sales associates got right to work, moving from rack to rack, front to back, and side to side. After sizing up my fashion preferences by checking out the outfit I was wearing, she was able to pull the most amazing dresses and outfits that suited me. At first, I thought about buying one dress that I could wear for the rest of the business day and a night out afterward. However, I ended up purchasing two!

While this experience was already incredibly curated and supportive, it did not end at the register. The sales associate shared that a new promotion was starting the next day. She offered to set aside my choices, process my transaction the next day, and have them delivered to my hotel room by 7:00 a.m. that day.

Initially, I thought such an offer was too much to ask. But after that little pink bag was delivered to my room at 7:00 a.m., I was in awe. No extra charge. No payment errors. Only the outfits I purchased – steamed, ready to be worn, and perfect for me.

To this day, I always visit that store whenever I visit the NYC office. Sure, the taxes are higher than at the same store in my hometown. But it’s the shopping experience – not just the clothes – that makes me come back.

Demand for brand connection renews the purpose of traditional stores

Creating such a stellar, human-centered retail experience can be one of the most defining experiences in the customer journey. By understanding the wants, needs, behaviors, and motivations of every consumer, retailers can give consumers personal touches that can turn a shopper that’s “just looking” into a raving fan for life.

For this reason, physical stores – from a permanent location to a pop-up shop – are more relevant than ever before. This is where retailers can collect feedback from consumers, measure the outcomes of experience-management strategies, and train their workforce to embrace their influence as brand ambassadors.

Are you ready to create such a loyal following through the power of your physical store locations? Read my next post, which will provide a prescriptive roadmap that moves the consumer experience beyond just satisfying the demand for convenience, transparency, and control to providing personalized services that let everyone fall in love with your brand.

Download the SAP experience management survey “Couture Connections: Fashioning Improved Customer Loyalty with Experience Data,”

This article originally appeared on LinkedIn Pulse.

Robin Barrett Wilson

About Robin Barrett Wilson

Robin Barrett Wilson is an industry executive advisor, focused on the fashion industry, at SAP. Leveraging her past experience and knowledge within the fashion industry, she works closely with our customers to understand their respective businesses and growth objectives. Additionally, she is a recourse for when it comes to trends in the industry. Prior to joining the SAP team, Robin has held various roles including founding her own omnichannel, socially conscious women’s clothing brand and developing and producing her line in New York City. She also has held a wide variety of roles for well-known brands such as Victoria’s Secret, Macy’s, and VF Corp.