Despite the rise of online and mobile shopping, it seems that many retail chiefs around the world believe that sales growth is still dependent on traditional bricks-and-mortar stores.

Despite the rise of online and mobile shopping, it seems that many retail chiefs around the world believe that sales growth is still dependent on traditional bricks-and-mortar stores.

A survey released at the World Retail Congress revealed that more than two thirds of the industry executives questioned think that physical shops are still the most important way for their businesses to engage with customers – and 47% say that stores will account for more than half their sales growth over the next 12 months, compared to just 31% for online.

But one question the survey didn’t seem to answer was why?  Part of the answer is bound to be related to the ‘physicality’ of high street shopping – the ability to touch and feel the items being purchased.

But that’s only part of the story. Perhaps retailers are waking up to the fact that the de-personalisation of retail – which has largely been driven by the growth of ecommerce – could actually be hurting their ability to engage with their customers effectively?

Against this backdrop, savvy retailers are now using their real-world stores to make their online presence more attractive to customers, rather than the other way around. 

Look at John Lewis, for example. The UK king of retail has once again been namedasthe UK’s most trusted retailer, with more than 96% of consumers trusting the brand, followed by Marks & Spencer and Waterstones.

Without a doubt, a lot of this trust is based on the in-store experience.  Anyone who has shopped in a John Lewis branch will have noticed the warm way in which the store is lit and merchandised; the entire experience has the stamp of quality about it. 

And then there is the customer service. Stories of people being let down by John Lewis are few and far between – but if something does go wrong, the retailer will go to the ends of the Earth to fix the problem.

This kind of experience is what keeps John Lewis’ customers coming back for more, not just to the retailer’s physical stores, but also to its website.

So is it any wonder that retail bosses are committed to keeping their physical presence, well, physical? You have to remember that ecommerce is still an embryonic sales channel compared to real-world selling, which more or less dates back to the dawn of mankind.

The real Holy Grail for retailers will be to get their bricks-and-mortar and ecommerce offerings working together in harmony. When high street customers say that they will ‘go away and think about it’, physical stores should do everything in their power to keep hold of that sale. For example, why not offer them a voucher for 10% off that can be used on the website?

Considering how quickly consumers can search out the best deals on Google, high street stores need to use clever tactics like these to make the most of the opportunity to build relationships with their customers in-store.

Online shopping clearly has its advantages, but when it comes to encouraging loyalty and building consumer trust, bricks-and-mortar still provides retailers with the strongest foundation for growth.

  • Dan Coen, director, Zolfo Cooper