Reports on the decline of physical retail stores and rise of online shopping have been circulating for years, which has only been worsened by the detrimental impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. However, as we’ve seen in many recent papers, such as Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield’s How We Shop report which predicts more than half of retail stores will be dedicated to providing experiences by 2025, it’s clear that experiential retail – or ‘retailtainment’ as it’s often referred – is primed as the future of shopping.

Experiential developments present retailers with a unique opportunity to reinvent how their stores operate, driving more footfall to physical shops and, in turn, securing the future success of the business. Interestingly, 81 per cent of people have said they would be willing to pay more for a better in-store experience.

James Pow, retail advisor at business advisory firm Quantuma

Brands build on consumer retention through associations and emotional perceptions built up over time. Experiential forward-thinking retailers understand this in their future product planning and build it into their global plan. With the continual demise of the prior importance of bricks and mortar classically associated, there is a new recognition amongst retail businesses destined to decline post pandemic.

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Lockdown and its impact on click and collect has made us recognise that anchoring brands to bricks and mortar or the high street in a physical sense is no longer a prerequisite for existence. Whilst the high street and physical stores will not completely disappear, the sector will comprise of a very different makeup to that of 2019/20.

The brands that will succeed will be the disruptors – those offering peak consumer experience, visible customer service of the highest standards and meaningful engagement. Others in a relatively protected area from online dominance such as lingerie and fragrance will adapt and expand their instore experience in a fully customer-focused way. We have seen this develop meaningfully and in an exponential way with brands such as Apple and Disney. These brands own customer experience totally and measure forensically the value they build into their face-to-face consumer contact. They own that journey and take you on it with them in their communications both pre- and post-purchase through reselling on to their next product launch.

What is clear is 2021 will be a pivotal year for all retailers, whether that is online, in-store or across both. Those who will stay afloat and excel in the market are the retailers that have the vision and capability to innovate and capture consumers in the right way, at the right time.