The hidden value of a retail store

A retail store is more than just a place from which to buy. A good (or bad) in-store experience can enhance or detract from customers' overall perceptions of your brand. Murray Goodwin from Ipsos MORI’s UK Customer Experience team shares his observations on the role of a physical store.

The author(s)

  • Murray Goodwin Customer Experience
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What’s the value of a retail store? Life on the high street has never been more challenging. Many organisations, rather archaically, still view their physical stores as yet another isolated sales channel – and each bricks and mortar location must pay its way. With rising rents and squeezed margins, the end result can sometimes be a race to the bottom: with retailers stripping back design features, reducing headcount to the bare minimum and standardising shop elements to the point that a store presence offers little more than a physical manifestation of their website: a bland box from which to peddle your wares albeit in a costlier, less efficient way than online.

This short-sighted approach rather misses the point. If you value your store only in terms of the sales it generates immediately within its four walls, you are significantly under-appreciating its true worth. In fact, a physical store presence – when executed well – can proffer so much more.

At Ipsos, we believe customer experience is a product of the gap that exists between the ‘brand promise’ you place in the minds of your consumers and the subsequent reality that they observe.

A good bricks-and-mortar experience can help you deliver a richer reflection of this brand promise: bringing your brand’s values and personality to life in a way that digital experiences, for all their growing seamlessness and innovation, still can’t quite achieve.

How does your brand smell? How do your products feel in your customers' hands? How does an interaction with your brand touch them on an emotional level?

The concept of a store as a ‘showroom’ shouldn’t be anything new – for some time, customers have used retail locations as a place to get ‘hands on’ with your products, only to buy them later elsewhere. Of course smart sellers aren’t scared of this behaviour; instead they design their businesses to accommodate seamless multi-channel journeys, based around an objective understanding of customers’ missions and expectations from each channel.

Today, the bravest brands of all are recognising the true intrinsic value of a store to be about much more than simply selling: it’s about bringing a brand to life – forging a deeper, more meaningful relationship with your customers – whether meeting them for the first time or welcoming them back as old friends. Human, face-to-face interactions within a physical environment touch your customers on a behavioural science level – they allow you a unique opportunity to anchor your brand in positive, real-world emotions; whilst a more experiential in-store experience can help you forge stronger connections with your customers: creating advocacy, positive sentiment and lasting relationships.

Consumers’ expectations are changing faster than ever and younger generations in particular expect retail stores to deliver so much more than simply a place to buy. Instead, a visit to store today should be a meaningful and memorable experience in its own right: a destination to spend quality time; somewhere to seek out richer help and advice; to learn, to understand and an opportunity to nurture a deeper, more emotional, more human relationship with your brand.

The author(s)

  • Murray Goodwin Customer Experience

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