The dominance of e-commerce has changed what we expect from the brick-and-mortar retail shopping experience, to the point that some major brands are toying with saying goodbye to the old model altogether. Trying to match the convenience, selection and clean navigation of e-commerce in a physical location is a tall order.
You can walk through a big-box retailer all afternoon checking items off your shopping list, or you can visit the same retailer’s website, make a few clicks, and everything you need will arrive at your door within a few days – and usually for a better price.
So the big question is, how do we make better use of all the physical retail space that used to be the core of consumer action? The answer just may be to stop selling, and start showing.
E-commerce has many advantages, but it’s not perfect. Reviews, product descriptions, and supplementary content can shape our perception of products we research online. Yet for big purchases, especially tech and clothing, most of us want to hold the thing in our hands or try it on before we break out our wallets.
So what do we do when, for example, it’s time to upgrade to a new smartphone? Visit a brick-and-mortar store, demo a few of the most appealing options we researched ahead of time, then go online to shop for the best price and buy a new phone. This pattern won’t be changing any time soon, so forward-thinking retailers are increasingly looking for ways to embrace it.
Introducing the Unstore
Samsung’s new flagship “unstore” in NYC is a great example. It’s a 40,000 square-foot building on valuable Manhattan real estate, where you can’t purchase a single product. Instead, the store is built to deliver the ultimate consumer experience. This includes virtual reality, common areas for people to relax in comfort, a theater-style setup with a wall of Samsung televisions and, of course, every new Samsung gadget that you could possibly wish to demo. If you’ve got a question, brand representatives are there to help, but they won’t be trying to corner you into a sale before you walk out the door.
The idea is to provide consumers with an opportunity to learn about (and learn to love) the brand, without financial incentives clouding the picture on either side of the equation. It’s a bold move, and may be a sensible one, too. When all goes to plan, a positive consumer experience lays the foundation for a mutually beneficial long-term relationship. You might call the “unstore” one big advertisement, but even so, it’s much more enjoyable for the consumer than tuning out a YouTube ad for five seconds until the skip button appears.
… and It’s Not Just About Millennials
There’s no doubt that the “unstore” concept was developed in part with millennials in mind, because they’ve grown up in a connected, digital world that has turned traditional marketing upside down. When we’re talking about these sorts of new marketing concepts, however, it’s easy to make the mistake of focusing only on millennials, at the expense of everyone else. But everyone else is a mighty big group!
We all want a convenient, low pressure, informative shopping experience, and just about every demographic has a healthy presence online. A positive consumer experience has broad appeal, and benefits across the board. The concept of brick-and-mortar retail is far from dead, it’s just evolving with the times. I’m excited to see where it goes next, because the long-term potential of a deeper, more personal connection between consumers and brands is huge.