The retail industry is going through a major shift as technology begins to take on an increasingly important role in how customers shop and engage with brands. When it comes to the in-store, many retailers are in a trial and error phase to determine what will attract customers, and keep them coming back. The biggest challenge seems to be the question of how to seamlessly integrate the world of social, e-commerce and the physical store. There’s also the task of catering to the growing millennial population who demand service that’s convenient, personalized and digitally enhanced.

Faced with regular reports of store closures from the likes of major brands such as the Gap and Target, to name a few, others are realizing that it’s imperative for them to quickly meet the expectations of today’s customer – a customer who is digitally empowered and presented with seemingly unlimited options to choose from. In this tough landscape, how can brands set themselves apart and create loyal customers?

In answering this question, it’s important to remember that the majority of customers still prefer to shop in-store. According to a recent study, 85% of consumers prefer to shop at a brick and mortar and over 90% of them would be more likely to make a purchase when assisted by knowledgeable staff (TimeTrade retail study). This data suggests that brands should focus on improving the in-store experience, and leverage their greatest advantage over e-commerce, their staff, in order to succeed.

Sport Chek is a retailer who’s stepping away from the traditional in-store experience and making a move in the right direction to capture the interest of a new generation of shoppers. Seeing that their stores were underperforming, the company has taken innovative measures to merge the physical with digital, starting with their 75,000 square feet location at Square One in Mississauga.

At Sport Chek’s Square One location.

Customers are able to experience the brand before making a decision to buy, through a journey that includes touch screen kiosks where they can look up product details and add to their carts to buy through a mobile device, interactive testing areas to try out equipment, and a lounge with an interactive screen where customers can point and watch relevant fitness videos. Despite all the digital presence, they have ensured that plenty of in-store staff are on hand to help customers along their buying journey.

As an obviously forward-thinking retailer, the Lucova team would like to see Sport Chek taking things even further to define what the optimal in-store experience could be. The key advantage that e-commerce has over in-store, is that they can track individual customers to truly personalize their buying experience – so the customer is presented with items that fit their budget, aligns with their preferences and keeps historical records of their buying habits to further customize their shopping experience. This type of personalization comes down to recognizing and servicing each customer as an individual, rather than as a segment.

Imagine if Sport Chek staff could greet customers by name the moment they walk in (like a local mom and pop shop would), have a list of items that fall within the customer’s price range and interests ready for them to try, present discounts and offers customized to them, and once the customer is ready to make a purchase, allow them to do so without ever having to pull out their wallet or a device? This type of solution is possible when we view a customer’s mobile device as a sensor, rather than just a communication tool, and it’s already being adopted by millennials who are known to favour experiences.

In retail, the in-store experience has been slowly dying as evidenced by the closure of multiple stores. We believe it’s as a result of retailers not recognizing and leveraging their strengths – the “touch-and-feel” aspect of retail and the experience/ambiance of being in a store, which includes the expertise that staff bring to the table.  

Parallels can be drawn to the movie theatre industry, which was under barrage from home theatres, online streaming and services like Netflix which made accessing movies much easier.  It became tempting for customers to make the choice to stay in to watch a movie instead of going out.  However, the theatres made the smart decision to make movie going more of a high end experience.  They differentiated themselves by introducing concepts like IMAX, 3D movies and VIP seating.  Now, going to a theatre is a unique experience which you can’t replicate at home.

Retail is undergoing a similar transition where the “shopping experience” can be differentiated and made more powerful by combining a traditional element of in-store, the staff, with emerging technology products which give customers a truly VIP experience. This will compel customers to make an in-store visit instead of opting for browsing and buying at home.