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Brick-and-mortar stores are in the midst of a resurgence. Ecommerce platforms are prominent among those opening stores.
. DTC darlings brands like Warby Parker and Glossier showed a path for digitally native brands in physical retail, and platforms such as Amazon and Instagram have previously experimented with brick-and-mortar. Yet at a time of reopening as pandemic restrictions lift and in-person activities pick back up, a wave of openings now offers a moment to consider how stores might shift what they do as shopping habits change. A big part of those shifts is growth of ecommerce, which grew digital shopping habits that stand set to remain even as in-store shopping picks back up.
To be sure, the new stores are mostly single locations, and appear to be testing grounds rather than major initiatives. Yet this offers an opportunity to pilot new retail technology, and get feedback directly from shoppers. Taken together, it’s a look at how the elements that drove ecommerce can be applied in physical stores. At a time when physical and digital retail are blending, it shows how there’s a big role for platforms to play.
Let’s take a look:
(Photo via Amazon)
Amazon is well-known for its foray into in-person grocery stores, but a new store in Los Angeles is its first physical retail location. It’s curating looks from Amazon and other brands. While the store has the identifiable look of a clothing boutique and a staff of employees onhand to assist, technology plays a big part in powering the experience.
A description from the company describes the following tech involved in the steps to a purchase:
- QR codes to help select items for try-on, including size and color.
- Shoppers can also select clothes on Amazon, and have them delivered to the store for try-on, The Verge reports.
- Machine learning algorithms that learn shopper preferences to make recommendations.
- Interactive fitting rooms equipped with touchscreen displays to rate items and request more.
- Payment that is synced with an Amazon account. The store doesn’t have the Just Walk Out technology popularized at Amazon grocery stores.
There are lots of interesting ways that Amazon is bringing the tools of its platform to the store. Personalization and ratings are straight from the web, while an interactive fitting room blends the digital and the physical. Whether these end up sticking in brick-and-mortar remains to be seen, but this is a prime example of how an in-store experience could pave the way for a new wave of omnichannel.
(Photo via Wayfair)
In Lynnfield, Massachusetts, Wayfair is debuting its tech-powered spin on the home store with a brick-and-mortar location for its AllModern brand.
Blending digital and physical is the theme here. A report from Itemlive.com describes tech-powered features such as QR codes that take shoppers to web-based education materials on items, and electronic shelf labels that replace physical markdowns.
There are signs of innovation in the physical experience, as well. Shoppers can consult with experts to design their rooms using the available furniture within the store or consult Wayfair's app for more products. Meanwhile, kids can look for 3D-printed items on a scavenger hunt.
This is the first of a planned series of three store openings from Wayfair this year in Massachusetts for its Allmodern and Joss & Main stores.
Instagram’s pop-up @Shop
Shopping functions are an increasingly important part of Instagram, with new features like product tagging offering a constant reminder of its role as a trailblazer in social commerce.
With a pop-up in New York last week, the platform marked the three-year anniversary of @shop, which just hit one million followers. With a curated selection of exclusive products from brands like Estelle Colored Glass, Sunday Forever and Hill House, Instagram offered a showcase of minority-owned small businesses.
Pointing toward the future of shopping, the boutique also featured an in-store live shopping event hosted by Instagram Editorial Lead Leigh Belz Ray. Setting livestreaming events in brick-and-mortar stores has been an essential strategy in China, where live shopping took off in recent years.
For Instagram, the blend between online and offline lies in how the platform can provide the path to a purchase. Instagram said 70% of users are browsing the platform to discover new products, and 87% of users said influencers on the platform led them to buy an item or take a trip. Providing an in-store experience that’s connected to the platform can only strengthen that buyer journey.
Meta puts the metaverse in retail
Inside the Meta store. (Courtesy photo)
Often touted as a virtual world, the metaverse’s eventual destination is actually a blend of the physical and the virtual. That means the in-person experience is a necessary ingredient. Meta is providing a place to try on the metaverse with a recently-opened store on its campus in Burlingame, California.
In this store, tech is the product. The store is offering a chance to demo hardware products, including the Meta Quest virtual reality headset, the Meta Portal video call device and Ray Ban Stories, the smart sunglasses that allow wearers to capture photo and video.
A hands-on experience is the focus of the experience, according to Meta. One demo area for the Meta Portal allows shoppers to place a call to a store attendant. A display wall for Meta Quest offers a selection of available content. And the Ray Ban Stories area has options to customize looks based on color, style and lenses. The store also has a curved LED wall where visitors can play VR experiences like Beat Saber, GOLF+, Real VR Fishing, and Meta captures a shareable 30-second clip of the experience to remember it by.
The 1,550-square-foot store is not so much about shopping as it is about the experience. Meta wants to showcase what’s possible in the future. But with hardware a big part of its future plans, the company will be looking to learn from how visitors interact.
“Having the store here in Burlingame gives us more opportunity to experiment and keep the customer experience core to our development,” Martin Gilliard, Head of Meta Store, said in an announcement. “What we learn here will help define our future retail strategy.”
eBay’s sneaker store
eBay's Wear 'Em Out. (Courtesy photo)
eBay is known as a destination for sneakers, and that’s the focus of a pop-up that’s set to be open in LA on Memorial Day weekend.
With a selection curated by the rapper Offset, The Wear 'Em Out Store is primarily touting its prices. Seeking to encourage sneakerheads to take their shoes out of the box, it’s also offering added discounts for shoppers who leave in their new kicks.
"The Wear 'Em Out Store celebrates a love of sneakers, while acknowledging that sneakerheads are often balancing what they wear with what they keep in the box,” said Garry Thaniel, GM of Sneakers at eBay, in a statement. “eBay is the place to find every style and every price, and now we're offering an incentive to lace up the most coveted sneakers of the summer."
Providing a place for offline connection and a strong message behind it can serve to strengthen shoppers' relationship with a platform. That eBay is focusing on sneakers and not eBay with the popup shows that it is taking the community-building that is such an important focus for digital brands to the IRL setting.
Trending in Retail Channels
Labor disputes on the West Coast could cause further disruption heading into peak season.
When the first half of 2023 is complete, imports are expected to dip 22% below last year.
That’s according to new data from the Global Port Tracker, which is compiled monthly by the National Retail Federation and Hackett Associates.
The decline has been building over the entire year, as imports dipped in the winter. With the spring, volume started to rebound. In April, the major ports handled 1.78 million Twenty-Foot Equivalent Units. That was an increase of 9.6% from March. Still it was a decline of 21.3% year over year – reflecting the record cargo hauled in over the spike in consumer demand of 2021 and the inventory glut 2022.
In 2023, consumer spending is remaining resilient with in a strong job market, despite the collision of inflation and interest rates. The economy remains different from pre-pandemic days, but shipping volumes are beginning to once again resemble the time before COVID-19.
“Economists and shipping lines increasingly wonder why the decline in container import demand is so much at odds with continuous growth in consumer demand,” said Hackett Associates Founder Ben Hackett, in a statement. “Import container shipments have returned the pre-pandemic levels seen in 2019 and appear likely to stay there for a while.”
Retailers and logistics professionals alike are looking to the second half of the year for a potential upswing. Peak shipping season occurs in the summer, which is in preparation for peak shopping season over the holidays.
Yet disruption could occur on the West Coast if labor issues can’t be settled. This week, ports from Los Angeles to Seattle reported closures and slowdowns as ongoing union disputes boil over, CNBC reported. NRF called on the Biden administration to intervene.
“Cargo volume is lower than last year but retailers are entering the busiest shipping season of the year bringing in holiday merchandise. The last thing retailers and other shippers need is ongoing disruption at the ports,” aid NRF Vice President for Supply Chain and Customs Policy Jonathan Gold said. “If labor and management can’t reach agreement and operate smoothly and efficiently, retailers will have no choice but to continue to take their cargo to East Coast and Gulf Coast gateways. We continue to urge the administration to step in and help the parties reach an agreement and end the disruptions so operations can return to normal. We’ve had enough unavoidable supply chain issues the past two years. This is not the time for one that can be avoided.”