We’re all familiar with this gloomy synopsis: traditional bricks-and-mortar stores are dying, online shopping is inevitably inheriting the retail crown and the high street is doomed…right? Well, not quite it seems. In a rather delightful demographic twist, it appears that while Millenials and Gen Z take the availability of online retail for granted, they actually value physical, meaningful, ‘in real life’ connections with the things they’re buying more than digital convenience. Shopping, in this context, is a leisure activity – so why shouldn’t it be entertaining, exciting and fun? The next generation are not just shopping for products – they’re shopping for experiences.

Emotional purchase power

“More and more, consumers are shopping with their emotions instead of their wallets.” Forbes, 2019

Enter the era of omnishopping – where the lines between on- and offline retail and marketing are becoming increasingly blurred. For all its convenience, digital retail has its work cut out trying to create meaningful connections with customers. Gen Z in particular are turning to social media (predominantly Instagram) to try and experience the brands and products they desire, but even then, statistics are showing that nothing can beat actually getting up close and personal when making purchase decisions. This is where a return to real customer service can truly make the difference.

Consumer analytics firm Adoreboard surveyed 10,000 18-34 year olds, and found that on an emotional level, 49% preferred to shop in physical stores, compared to 39% who preferred websites, and 11% who preferred apps. According to Adoreboard, “the next generation…want, need and value that in-person, human, individualised experience.”

Connect before you buy

“Gen Z is the Instagram/Snapchat generation, driven by gorgeous visuals and fleeting attention spans…they want products that they feel are unique to them and reflect their values.” Criterio, 2018

It’s a whole lot more than just remodelling stores to be more attractive however. Brands looking to survive this fundamental change in retail habits need to leverage both their physical and digital assets to create entertaining, engaging and memorable experiences that capture consumers’ attention. There is a fantastic opportunity to combine the best of on- and offline retail into one seamless experience for the customer. Interactive displays, augmented and virtual reality, hands-on product testing and rich media content are all already being used to great effect by savvy brands in-store – and if we add into the mix the ability to complete a purchase started online by a customer, or access previous ecommerce order history to provide personalised advice in-store, then the concepts of ‘channels’ and digital competition simply disappear. Even brands with no traditional retail presence are turning to physical touch points enhanced by digital content to wow their potential customers and deliver their brand values in a tangible form.

Consumers – especially the next generation – want to feel excited and valued. Whether consciously or not, they’re making an emotionally-driven judgement of a brand that’s directly proportional to how much apparent effort has been put in to a retail experience. And they’re looking to belong – they want to discover brands that speak to them and their values, and there’s no better place to do that than in person.

Bringing it all together

“The retail store is not experiencing an apocalypse: on the contrary, it is on the cusp of a renaissance.” Retail Systems Research, 2018

The future is far from gloomy then. The conclusion is that this isn’t a ‘one way is better than the other’ situation – a successful, deep retail experience needs to be part of the bigger picture, where physical and digital channels work seamlessly together to deliver a whole new level to consumers. That’s where digital becomes a part of the in-store experience and vice versa – imagine a retail display that talks to an app on a customer’s phone for example, or a website that knows if you’ve visited a shop in person. That’s not the future, that’s happening right now. Make sure you don’t miss out.