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The future of retail stores

Business adaptability and agility has been one of the few positive outcomes from this pandemic. All over the world, a new mindset of quick thinking and experimentation has enabled a wide range of businesses to survive and even thrive.

However, it’s been a huge challenge for many, not least for bricks & mortar retailers and those in hospitality but this month the future is looking brighter with re-openings continuing and consumer confidence bouncing back to pre-Covid figures*. We might not be completely out of the woods but there certainly feels like more optimism in the air in our conversations with clients about their new retail futures.

The new retail future for stores and the UK high street was very much in focus this month at the Retail Week and World Retail Congress Stores Week panel discussions, where senior leaders from across retail exchanged insights and a vision for the future retail landscape.

Discussion ranged around the role of the store in today’s multichannel world and explored how to drive footfall after the pandemic, as well as how to build instore experiences where consumers really want to shop. Panellists generously shared their successes and predictions, and there was agreement that despite the rapid growth of online, retail stores still play a pivotal role for brands today.

One panellist suggested that stores should be ‘a temple’ for a brand in a way that it can’t be done online. This realisation that the store is where consumers can have the best and most immersive relationship with a brand is nothing new - we’ve been blogging about it and working with clients to design great instore brand experiences for years.

However, the pandemic has hastened the arrival of a ‘new retail landscape’. Not only is online retail here to stay but the ‘experience economy’ has also arrived. Consumers coming out of lockdown need strong and compelling reasons to leave their sofas and re-enter physical stores again, and that means investing in exceptional retail stores.

The Stores Week panellists were in general agreement that their future retail success lies in delivering blended and seamless digital and physical retail journeys for their customers, helping each individual to shop in the best way for them, whatever the channel.

Whilst the current challenges of physical retail are evident – such as location and store size, inflexible business rates and lease models - the panel recognised that great stores still have a vital place in their retail mix.

This week we’ve been celebrating some great stores with openings by two very different retail clients; Homebase who opened their first new large store in 6 years, and independent luxury retail jewellers Wakefields who have just reopended after a major store redesign.

These clients may operate at opposite ends of the retail spectrum but both recognise the need for innovation and reinvention. They’re among a new generation of retailers who are embracing adaptability, agility and experimentation to drive their own new retail futures.

In fact, Homebase’s Chief Executive was one of the panellists at Stores Week and if you’d like to hear his particular take on ‘Tomorrow’s high street’ and the role of the store, it’s still available to watch on demand.

* Source: GfK’s Consumer Confidence Index

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