By: Dara Treseder
Over the past decade, brands have battled in a quest to digital dominion. But as the initial frenzy over internet real estate has calmed, the allure of brick and mortar is growing again. Brands that made their marks as ecommerce experts are now forging new territory, building physical stores to offer their customers a different kind of experience.
Amazon is the standout example. It has advanced in the race for digital and physical brand synergy by designing the first cashierless stores. Amazon Go stores bring back the concept of the traditional grocery store—but with the ease of digital checkout. CEO Jeff Bezos envisions the stores as a crucial new element to the brand and plans to open more than 3,000 more in the next few years.
Glossier, on the other hand, has taken a more intimate approach. The cosmetics brand already has a cult-like following, but its leaders realized that they can use small physical showrooms to turn the brand into even more of a special club. This summer, Glossier grew its brick-and-mortar presence by one, opening a temporary store in Chicago. The space is themed with Chicago history and photography from Chicago-based artists, adding a local element to the experience.
And it’s not just ecommerce giants that have taken their experiences in-store. Companies like Greats, which delivers luxury footwear to a niche audience, are evolving their brands with an experiential edge. Stores don’t just allow customers to experience the tactility of their product —they also provide prime moments for social connection, with Instagram opportunities programmed into each space.
The takeaway here is clear: In a world where real-life interaction is increasingly rare, brands that can merge the magic of a physical experience with the power of digital are the ones that will inspire loyalty.
Balance Your Brand’s Digital and Physical Elements
Digital natives are born innovators, but they’re realizing that the next platform of innovation is, in a way, a step backward. About 60% of consumers feel that brands need to become more “human” in their approaches to customer experience, according to research by PwC, and smart brands are recognizing that.
Here are three ways you can start building your brand by adding brick and mortar to your digital kingdom:
1) Combine the Digital and Physical Experience In-Store
The beauty of physical spaces is that they appeal directly to the senses. They bring customers closer to your product and allow them to focus without distraction—or the presence of your competitors on the screen.
That beauty can be enhanced by digital technology, which smooths the rougher edges of brick-and-mortar service, adds touches of personalization, and removes the friction of long checkout times. As Amazon Go shows, the idea of blending the tangibility of a physical store with the convenience of e-commerce gets a lot of people excited. And other brands are developing their own blends. In the cosmetics industry, for example, trusted name L’Oréal is using augmented reality to enhance its in-store experience with its MakeupGenius app, which allows customers to virtually try on makeup and test out different shades.
2) Bring Your In-Store Experience to Online Channels
While your digital prowess can add ease to a physical experience, brick-and-mortar offerings can bring credibility and authenticity to your digital world. Take inspiration from the physical world when designing and redesigning your online shopping experience.
Pez, the much-loved candy brand, did this by creating a new channel, Pez Play. It’s an augmented reality (AR) app that brings heightened physicality to its digital experience. It helps Pez learn about its customers while giving them a rewarding, game-like way of enjoying the brand. This extra dimension is especially important for existing customers. Surround them with sensory and dynamic elements, and you reward their loyalty by enriching their experience, even if they’re just browsing from their living rooms.
3) Use Social Media to Animate Your Local Community
Digital media is still the most powerful tool for energizing groups of people, so use it to cultivate connections in your community. Take to your favorite platforms to bridge gaps between local businesses, organizations, and individuals. Summon up a buzz for a local event. Get behind a local cause and show the community what your values are.
For any brand, physical or digital, providing sturdy customer care on social media is crucial for making people feel special. In fact, according to Sprout Social, 30% of consumers say they’ll take their business elsewhere if they don’t feel a brand is listening to them on their digital channel of choice.
By bringing the digital and the physical aspects of your business into balance, you’ll inspire greater trust, affinity, and loyalty from customers looking for a port in this digital storm. And the best thing is, you don’t have to own acres of land to make it a reality. Simply adding physicality to the experience of your digital channels can make your brand a more immersive, rewarding place to be.