There was a recent article in the Wall Street Journal called “Why Can’t a Store Be More Like a Web Site?” that explores how Saks Fifth Avenue’s new flagship store in New York was informed by the company’s web site. The goal is for customers to spend as much time perusing the physical store as they do online. The thinking goes that the more time people spend in a store or on a web site, the more likely they are to purchase.
While this might be true for stores, the logic does not hold online, and especially on mobile. Brands are seeing the majority of their traffic these days on mobile, but conversion rates of only one-third of the desktop. If you build it, they will come, but there’s no guarantee they will buy.
Why is this the case? Because brands and department stores have a long ways to go before they are actively showing the right products to the right people, not just showing everyone everything. So it’s not just making stores like web sites, but making stores, web sites and apps more like one’s home.
Specifically, this means moving to a world with advanced personalization and highly attentive service, in store or online. We’re starting to see brands and retailers embody this approach and the early signs look promising. The Apartment by the Line’s SoHo flagship and The Row’s Upper East Side flagship are two examples of the evolution of stores into homes. Walking into both stores, one gets the feeling that these are places to browse, relax and converse with no specific agenda, rather than walking into a store littered with aisles and clothing racks. At The Row, the store feels like the townhouse in which it lives, while The Apartment embraces the SoHo loft in which it is built, furnished with a full bed, bathroom and entirely shoppable closet.
There are a few powerful aspects to these experiences:
1) The environment is peaceful and on the customer’s terms. It is more an environment to spend time in with a side of shopping than just a shopping environment.
2) The shopping experience makes a shopper feel like she is in her own home, with access to her closet, a drink she’s accustomed to and maybe a good friend helping her decide. It’s entirely natural.
3) There is minimal friction for the entire experience, be it complimentary shipping, same-day delivery, free returns or anything else that shows that the brand or retailer is working with you, not against you.
Most of these experiences exist in the offline world, but there are increasing opportunities for them to prosper online and on mobile as well. SNKRS by Nike, for example, asks users for their preferred models and then delivers similar shoes that the shopper might be interested in.
As people spend more and more time on mobile, and while existing experiences fail to convert at suitable rates, the opportunities are endless for building engaging native experiences that show customers the right products at the right time. The future of retail isn’t making web sites more like stores, but powering online and offline experiences with the same level of personalization, comfort and attention to detail as one finds in their own home.
Stephan Schambach is founder and chief executive officer of NewStore.