Why Retail Is Returning To The Brick-And-Mortar

Analog retail models are being updated with the speed and efficiency of digital retail.

While online shopping has added convenience and efficiency, it also has its drawbacks. Consumers are beginning to demand the personal and intimate experience of ‘old-fashioned’ retail, a sentiment that is backed up by data in The Curve Report. Seventy-one percent of Gen Xers and Ys say they would rather shop in brick-and-mortar stores than online. Seemingly fed up with the anonymity of mass retail, consumers are turning to smaller, more local retailers that are able to provide an intimate and unique shopping experience. This new take on retail, or pRetail, represents a return to analog retail models, accelerated by online platforms and next-generation technology. This presents not only an opportunity for new models to flourish, but also forces larger companies to adapt in order to stay relevant.

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In collaboration with the minds behind The Curve Report from NBCUniversal, PSFK is investigating this shift in consumer preference and examining how companies are working to create a more bespoke retail experience.

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One brand seeking to bridge this gap between digital and analog retail is home improvement store Lowe’s, which has created its own MyLowe’s app. The app connects the online and in-store shopping experience together by allowing customers and store associates to access shoppers’ purchase history. This helps store staff to better assist customers on their home projects, since customers won’t have to save their receipts, and the app will allow them to have a kind of home profile on record, which could recall the exact dimensions of a room that needs to be painted and calculate how much paint they need to buy. The app also adds value to the in-store consumer experience by pulling up product reviews and feedback from other customers to inform purchasing decisions. The app serves as a platform to connect the informative power of digital retail with the personal feel of in-store shopping, an approach that is in line with data from The Curve Report, which found that 84% of Gen Xers and Ys say they enjoy getting face-to-face help from the in-person salespeople.

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Another company seeking to better connect consumers with their products is Etsy, a crafts marketplace currently testing Etsy Wholesale, a new business-to-business platform that helps retailers buy handmade goods from its community of makers. Major retailers such as Nordstrom and West Elm have already signed on to stock shelves with, and give national exposure to, the work of artisans. By offering a larger platform to independent makers, Etsy Wholesale not only presents an opportunity for independent craftspeople, it also gives consumers greater exposure to unique goods. The motivation for this move is reflected in The Curve Report’s data, which found that 81% of Xers and Ys say that if price and quality were equal, they’d prefer to buy a product from another person rather than from a company or a brand, and 64% say they’d pay 25% more for a product made by an artisan than by a major brand.

Waitrose's farm shop on its Leckford Estate in Hampshire.

This concept of pRetail also extends to the food industry, where British grocery chain Waitrose has opened the UK’s first supermarket farm shop, which showcases the produce grown on the grocer’s 4,000-acre farm estate in Hampshire. The Leckford Estate outlet sells more than 1,000 homegrown products, including fresh meats and cheeses, bread, chutneys and a specially selected range of wine. The 165-square-meter shop emphasizes locally and regionally sourced food, with the bulk of the products coming from within a 30-mile radius of the estate. The new shop allows consumers an opportunity to get closer to the products they buy and feel a better connection with the people and farms that make their food.

These initiatives exemplify how larger brands are effectively connecting with local, unique products, and creating a more personalized retail experience. According to The Curve Report, 78% of Gen Xers and Ys say it’s important to know where a product was made and who made it. This shifting ethos is already beginning to radically transform the retail space: Researchers estimate that 10% to 30% of the goods that the United States now imports from China will be made at home by the year 2020, resulting in proceeds of up to $55 billion per year. In the coming decades we will begin to see fresh takes on analog retail models, which might include personal merchants, tailored products, and a resurgence of door-to-door sales, all catering to the specific desires of local shoppers. This new form of retail will reshape how local neighborhood commerce functions, and it will challenge large brands to effectively balance their macro vision with the micro tastes and preferences of each consumer.

For a closer look at how brands are approaching this issue, be sure to head over to The Curve Report to check out pRetail, which examines in depth this shift in consumer preference.

The Curve Report from NBCUniversal

pRetail

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Images via The Curve Report, Lowe’s, Etsy, Waitrose

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