21st Century Clicks & Mortar

Posted on 28. May, 2013 by Jon Bird in retail strategy

Nothing can beat the physical experience of bricks and mortar retail. And nothing can match the digital efficiency of clicking (or touching) on a screen to research and buy. It’s now clearer than ever that 21st century retail must be about blending the two – a “Clicks & Mortar” collaboration, to quote Sabrina Lin, VP Marketing, Cisco Systems. Lin spoke to the Westfield World Retail Study Tour Group in Shanghai last week.

Lin’s words stuck with me as 40 retailers and retail suppliers set out on a five-city tour of the globe. “Experience and efficiency are the new winning positions,” Lin went on to say. Too true, and when they work together to the benefit of shoppers, it is an awesome combination.

And so physical retailers need to be transformed digitally, and sellers who started out online need to become more physical. Somewhere in the middle is actually what the shopper wants.

For the bricks and mortar guys, it is about living up to what Jon Stine of Cisco calls “Internet-shaped expectations”; the desire from customers for infinite range, access to information, visibility of product availability, transparency of pricing and ease of purchase. Those retailers that embrace the idea are enjoying disproportionate returns. We saw how UK department store John Lewis does it particularly well, consistently extending its physical offer with a clear invitation to check out more online.

Iconic UK department store Selfridges is equally enthusiastic about linking physical to digital with a major commitment to “Click & Collect”, which is communicated everywhere in its Oxford Street store.

Meanwhile, for digital merchants, it’s all about supplementing high tech with high touch.  E-tailers have discovered that it is critically important to (literally) get the product into the hands of customers. We have seen many examples in our travels on this year’s Study Tour. In New York, we witnessed how both eyewear brand Warby Parker and men’s apparel seller Bonobos have gone from pure online, to a showroom attached to their head offices, to stand alone stores.

In Los Angeles, I ventured to Venice Beach to see how Toms Shoes, which started online, has launched a shop and community hangout.

And in London’s Soho, we saw and heard how luxury cycling brand Rapha has gone beyond the web with a hub for bike enthusiasts, which offers the chance to purchase product, have a great coffee, watch big races live and join regular rides. (Watch this space: Rapha is on its way to Australia soon too.)

The ultimate case study in Clicks & Mortar is still the Burberry store on London’s Regent Street. The Westfield group received a guided tour, and we learned how Burberry has modeled the store on its website – fluidly linking the physical and virtual.

Enough has been written about this space already, but for me walking the store and hearing the philosophy added a different dimension. In lots of ways, it’s a bold experiment in where retail needs to go – with innovations such as garments with RFID tags that trigger useful videos when you hold the product close to the mirror.

So the future of retail is not “either/or”, it’s “and”. Fuse Clicks & Mortar together successfully and you end up with the best of both worlds.

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