Concept stores are specially curated stores offering a selection of unique products or services centred around a specific theme. They are designed to enhance the retail store experience for customers by selling a particular lifestyle that appeals to the retailer’s core audience.
As the economy returns to normal in the aftermath of the covid-19 pandemic, many of the UK’s top retailers are searching for ways of adapting their high street stores to match consumer expectations, which have changed dramatically over the last year. Concept stores are a powerful tool that retailers can use to align their brand offering with their customers’ new expectations in a post-covid world. For example, Sports Direct has launched a concept store on Oxford Street that includes a dedicated FIFA gaming area and an augmented reality selfie mirror that enables children to see what they would look like wearing their favourite team’s kit.
Creating synergy between online and in-store experiences
Online shopping has been on the rise since the turn of the century. Until covid, the unstoppable encroachment of online shopping on in-store retail sales was considered a major threat by many businesses. However, while some businesses were determined to keep these two worlds separate, this is no longer a feasible strategy now that covid has massively accelerated the transition towards a primarily online-focused retail economy. Instead of maintaining online and in-store as two distinct channels and revenue streams, retailers need to unify them and nurture synergy between them.
Concept stores bring together many of the best elements of the online experience and make them available to consumers in-store. Historically, online sales have primarily been driven by value. Without the overheads associated with physical retail stores, retailers have offered lower prices and special offers to online customers that they cannot match in store. Meanwhile, physical retail outlets have relied on human interaction and staff expertise to justify the extra costs to consumers. However, a growing number of retailers are waking up to the power of offering in-store customers access to the same offers and pricing as those shopping online.
With concept stores, retailers can go one step further. By taking advantage of digital technology such as augmented reality, retailers can foster an in-store experience that would have been unimaginable not long ago. Blurring the lines between the online and offline experiences encourages customers to utilise both channels and help drive the synergy between them.
Enhancing the in-store customer experience
Concept stores provide a blueprint for the future of brick-and-mortar retail outlets where the customer experience is at the heart. For example, fashion retailer Zara launched their Bluewater concept store in December 2020, describing it as a model for how future stores would integrate the online and in-store experiences.
Zara’s Bluewater store includes a dedicated personal shopper area and an automated collection point where customers can collect orders they’ve placed online. The addition of dedicated refund tills and self-service checkouts ensure a seamless experience that brings the efficiency and convenience of online shopping into a brick-and-mortar outlet. Like Sports Direct, Zara is creating a more interactive experience for in-store shoppers and enhancing the value of their offline stores in the process.
The role of payment processing in concept stores
According to most consumers, the biggest advantages of shopping online are speed and convenience. Lower prices are always a bonus, but if checking out online required users to join a virtual queue and wait their turn before paying, the value proposition would be significantly less appealing. Concept stores aim to provide more interactive experiences tailored to the retailer’s core audience. But long queues to pay and a limited range of payment options will make these stores seem no better than those of the past to most consumers.
To truly bridge the gap between the online and in-store experiences, concept stores need to include the same range of payment options that websites do. Self-service was initially reserved for supermarket checkouts but is becoming the norm for all kinds of retail outlets. With self-service checkouts that support a wide range of payment options, concept stores feel like the future of retail.
Concept stores show us what the future of retail looks like for customers shopping online and in-store. They don’t just import the best aspects of the online customer experience, but they augment them to create something greater than the sum of its parts.