No matter who you talk to, everyone in the retail industry has a view on the online/offline debate.

While some prematurely sounded the death knell for the physical store, what’s clear is that, far from disappearing, stores are actually adapting and evolving in response to ecommerce.

Despite the fact that around 90% of all UK sales still touch a physical store, generating sales is no longer the sole rationale for retailers’ expanding store footprints.

We are beginning to see a trend for retailers experimenting with stores primarily as a marketing tool, where building brand awareness and engaging with new catchments become the priorities, not sales.

It is well understood that for all its convenience, online retail does not allow shoppers to browse, touch and engage with products in the same way they can in a physical store.

Conversely, bricks-and-mortar stores provide the experience and social element of a shopping trip, but can often lack the ease of fulfilment delivered online.

You only have to look at the number of other pureplay brands making similar investments to see the unique appeal and value inherent in physical stores

The best possible experience for a customer, therefore, lies in the combination of both online and offline.

For traditional retailers, this is nothing new. You’d be hard pushed to find a physical retailer that hasn’t created an online shopping capability over the past ten years or so, but what is particularly interesting is that this trend is now starting to work in the opposite direction.

One of the most successful online retailers, Missguided, is making a move into physical stores, both in the capital and the regions.

And you only have to look at the number of other pureplay brands making similar investments to see the unique appeal and value inherent in physical stores.

Reinvigorating catalyst

Snap spectacles website image

Snap spectacles website image

Snap’s store was a marketing tool for its video spectacles

Far from signalling the end of traditional shopping, the digital revolution has actually served as a much-needed catalyst to reinvigorate the shopping experience, resulting in some extremely creative and inspiring retail concepts.

Snap, the company behind Snapchat, recently opened its first pop-up in New York to sell its ‘spectacles’ – a combination of glasses and video cameras. The store put shopper experience above all else, including profits.

Visitors queued up to buy a maximum of two sets of spectacles from one of two vending machines, which make up the entire contents of the room.

The only other features in the space were digital screens, showing videos made with the spectacles.

Snap capitalised on the lure of exclusivity and by doing so turned their store into a marketing tool, driving interest and demand both in the product and the brand.

Driving brand awareness

Recently, Skinnydip London opened one of its few standalone stores in Brent Cross and again the value of the pop-up was built on brand awareness and customer relationships.

Having traditionally sold their stock online or through the likes of Topshop, Skinnydip was able to promote its own brand by creating a visually eye-catching and interesting store that could then drive customers to their website and thus grow sales.

At Bullring’s LinkStreet, a flexible and vibrant retail space created for short-term leases, we have seen pureplay furniture retailer Made.com take pop-up space to trial a new concept without any actual tills.

Shoppers could come in to the store, browse, touch and experience some of the product, speak to the staff, and then make purchases online.

It is clear that for retailers such as Made.com, the purpose of the store has been tipped on its head.

We think this trend will continue to gather momentum as other major online retailers look to grow their brand presence and create an in-store experience that lures new customers.

The retail market is becoming ever more competitive, and it is clear that the brands succeeding in this environment are those that are investing in both their online and offline spaces.