Enjoying the Store: Retailers Have to Reinvent at Home

Half of consumers enjoy shopping for fashion in stores “always” or “most of the time,” but that doesn’t mean retailers can stand still.

Enjoying yourself?

When it comes to looking to buy fashion in a brick-and-mortar store, exactly half of shoppers answered “always” or “most of the time” to that question, which came from WWD and was asked in a poll from The NPD Group Inc.

In a retail world that’s been wracked by store closures, bankruptcies and Amazon, that result could be either heartening, a sign of opportunity or worrisome (that the other half are not enjoying themselves as much or at all).

Many people still like to hit the store, to touch and feel looks, rather than just having them arrive on their doorstep after an online purchase.

And that’s a reality that experts said many retailers are still not taking full advantage of as they ramp up their digital distribution, but continue to lose market share.

Even if many customers enjoy shopping, retailers are struggling to keep up their businesses. Shoppers are following their own fancy and playing by new rules — their own.

“Understanding the ‘why’ behind the ‘buy’ has become ever more important,” said Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst at NPD.

The research firm polled consumers in August, asking, “In general, when shopping for apparel/clothing for any occasion/reason, do you enjoy shopping in-store?”

The responses broke out like this:

• Yes, Always: 21 percent

• Yes, Most of the Time: 29%

• Yes, Some of the Time: 27%

• No, Never: 10%

• I do not shop for apparel/clothing in-store, I prefer online: 4%

• I do not shop for any apparel/clothing: 9%

“People really want to go to stores, especially when it comes to apparel, not just for fit or to feel the fabric, but they get new ideas when they’re actually in the environment, seeing how it’s styled,” said Kit Yarrow, consumer psychologist at Golden Gate University. “There’s nothing better than going into a store and seeing it and touching it and smelling it for yourself. People want that.”

Still, Yarrow said she was surprised so many people said they enjoyed shopping in stores always or most of the time.

“In my research, what I hear is boredom and frustration are the things that are keeping people unhappy in terms of going to stores,” she said. “There’s a lot of sameness in apparel shopping and it takes a long time to go from store to store to store.”

Many consumers want to go to stores, but they also clearly want something new.

“I don’t think that [in-store] experience has changed enough for the consumer,” Yarrow said. “If you’re shopping in New York, that’s a pretty exciting experience no matter where you shop. But if you’re shopping at almost any other city where you’re going to the mall, that’s just pretty dismal.”

And the retail experience is facing stiff competition from the still-rapidly growing e-commerce companies.

“The numbers are fairly scary,” said Martin Lindstrom, brand adviser and author of “Small Data: The Tiny Clues that Uncover Huge Trends.”

Linstrom zeroed in on the 4 percent of people who only shop for apparel online. He predicted that e-commerce companies would start to gain ground even more dramatically when they find a way to solve the fit problem — and get online shoppers looks that suit their bodies without the hassle of returns.

“The reason why the retailers exist is to curate their clothes,” he said. “Today, a lot of the retailers have not realized that that’s their role. They think they have to cram as much as they can inside those four walls.”

Linstrom, who works at the crossroads of neuroscience and marketing, said his research has shown about two-thirds of all apparel bought by women is bought in groups.

“The brick-and-mortar retailers have not really understood what makes them different and what they should focus on,” he said.

Many consumers are shopping less often and, even if they do enjoy being in the stores, are also buying more online.

Over the past few years, retailers have found that even if the majority of their sales come through the brick-and-mortar channel, almost all of their growth has come from e-commerce. That’s led to an environment in which retailers supercharged spending to build web capacity and shuttered stores.

“Retailers are moving very, very quickly to enhance their digital experience and compete with Amazon and online-only players,” said Michael Brown, a partner A.T. Kearney’s retail practice. “In those areas, they’re moving as fast as they can and we’re seeing more innovation there.”

It’s a different story in the real world, where Brown said companies have been “slow to react, to change the role of the store, the size of the store and the numbers of stores and how the store interplays with the digital experience.”

“This is the challenge of retail right now — how do you really operate a duel-channel business in a zero-growth or a negative-growth market. They need to keep pace in digital, but reduce the cost of the legacy environment.”

That process seems to be starting now, with store closures on pace this year to near 10,000 and top the rate seen in 2008.

But the stores still standing are going to have to carry a heavier load.

“Everybody’s focusing on e-commerce and Amazon, but the reality is that almost 90 percent of shopping happens in the store,” said David Bassuk, managing director at AlixPartners. “You have to still completely focus on making your store a place the consumer wants to come and it can’t just be the new assortment; it’s got to be something bigger and broader.”

So that’s retail in 2017 — spend on the part of the business that’s not growing and get it to do more with less while the web whirls on.

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