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Dollars and Change: How Big Retailers are Innovating the In-store Experience

Retail, the way we know it, is over. In-store displays of mannequins donning merchandise now share the showroom stage with digital experiences, beacons, and a whopping 85% of smartphone owners browsing their mobile devices in-store. Shoppers have come to expect a more personalized shopping experience — no matter where they’re shopping, or what device they’re shopping from.

Big retailers are responding by rethinking — and in some cases reinventing — the shopping experience. Macy’s CMO Martine Reardon even has a word for this: “digical,” as in the amalgamation of digital-physical. This way, the retail space can get more personal, hyper-targeted, uber-relevant, and fun. Macy’s partnership with mobile app Shopkick, for example, gamifies in-store shopping, “kicking it up a notch” by sending personalized deals and rewards straight to shoppers’ mobile phones as they hunt for that perfect pair of ballet flats, the newest Rebecca Minkoff bag, or, basically, anything else.

Innovative retail trendsetters, like Warby Parker, are expanding their built-on-the-internet branding into the physical store space. Every detail in Warby’s new stores is carefully planned, but, once inside, the experience feels more like you’re in an upscale boutique hotel lobby rather than an eye-glasses shop. Bigger retail brands, like Nordstrom, are catching on to this style of “destination shopping.” The retailer is making big upgrades to its in-store experience — like adding more windows, sleek wood floors, and even a bar mixing up craft cocktails — making the store in and of itself a hip place to be that lures shoppers in for a visit, and keeps them there a while.

Other retailers are transporting shoppers out of the physical retail space and into new virtual worlds. The North Face lets shoppers virtually fulfill their outdoor aspirations. Want to see what it’s like to hike the Appalachian Trail? Or feel the thrill of base-jumping off a steep cliff? Don a virtual reality headset, and you’re transported instantly — all while standing in The North Face store as your friends laugh at you and eagerly await their turn.

Whether or not any of these innovations will help grow sales or increase loyalty remains a question. But the point is that staying the same is no longer an option. Big retailers need to keep experimenting, innovate fast, embrace the failures, and move on from them faster. Success will come to those retailers that can anticipate what will dazzle shoppers tomorrow. And they can get there by connecting with who shoppers are — and discovering what they want — today.

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