After two years of lockdowns and closed stores, restrictions seem to be over in many countries. Retailers are breathing massive sighs of relief and brick and mortar shops are busying once more. Shoppers are returning to retail stores in their droves – where lockdown saw the rapid rise of online purchasing, industry experts are now forecasting a similar upward trajectory for brick and mortar shopping.

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This is nowhere more true than in the fashion sector – whilst the convenience of online has suited some, there are even more who have missed being able to see and touch the goods, try them on and have the whole physical experience and immediacy of brick and mortar shopping. Clothing and shoes are the top two categories of returned online purchases (88% and 44% respectively) and shoppers are tired of the ‘buy it, try it, send it back’ cycle.

This puts a golden opportunity into fashion retailers’ laps – if they’re ready to make the most of it. In this article, we’ll explore the ‘back to the store’ phenomenon, and how fashion retailers can position themselves to welcome shoppers back to an amazing in-store customer experience.

The (re-)rise of brick and mortar shopping

When online shopping was the only option, fashion consumers made the best of it. But for many, the screen was a poor substitute for the store, they’re returning to brick and mortar in their droves. In the UK, when non-essential retail stores re-opened in 2021, sales volumes rose 9.2% month over month, and foot traffic to stores went up by 218%. The British Retail Consortium reported that sales in May 2021 were 10% higher than the same month in 2019, before the pandemic. In the US, Forbes reported in mid-2021 that ‘foot traffic and in-store visits… have already increased +44% since the start of the year.

Making the most of the opportunity

So how do fashion retailers make the most of this opportunity? The answer is that they need to capitalise on those things that only brick and mortar shopping can offer and focus on offering a very different, and superior customer experience. Here’s some of the ways that fashion retailers might do just that.

  • The fitting room experience – the biggest difference between online and brick and mortar fashion shopping is the ability to try on items before buying. So smart retailers are focussing on making the fitting room experience modern, exciting and faster with Smart Augmented Reality (AR) mirrors. These create a 3D model of the shopper, with the clothing superimposed. The shopper sees ‘themselves’ in the mirror, wearing the clothes, but without the hassle of physically taking the items on and off. Smart Mirrors can be used to cross sell, upsell accessories and complementary items, and make for a fantastically differentiated customer experience.

  • Personalised suggestions – By implementing smart loyalty programs, combined with geo-fencing and location awareness, retailers know when their loyalty customers are in the store. They can use their knowledge of the shopper’s previous browsing or purchase history to send personalised shopping suggestion. Shoppers feel recognised and valued, and stores increase their sales.

  • Supply from anywhere – shoppers love the immediacy of brick and mortar shopping but get frustrated if the size and colour they want is not in stock. A flawless stock management system helps retail stores to enhance the customer experience – with full inventory visibility, staff can quickly find the exact item the shopper wants, and arrange collection from another store or delivery to home. If the item is not in stock, implementing a notification system keeps the sale alive, getting customers back when their item is available.
  • In person assistance – staff are a retailer’s best asset, and the more time they can spend with the customer, the greater their impact on sales and customer experience. So fashion retailers are turning to mobile point of sale systems, to get staff out from behind the counter and onto the shop floor alongside customers.

  • Returns – as we’ve heard, online purchases have a high return rate, so fashion retailers can use their retail stores as part of the returns process, making for a much smoother customer experience, as well as driving more shoppers to the brick and mortar store.

  • Continuous improvement – once shoppers are back in fashion stores, retailers can’t afford to rest on their laurels. Retail analytics can help them understand customers’ in-store behaviour, and inform decision on buying strategies, store layouts and offers and promotions.

Brick and mortar shopping is now firmly back on the agenda, especially for fashion retail. By planning for this resurgence and implementing retail technology to ensure that the in-store customer experience is truly memorable, fashion retailers can remain competitive and come out on top in the post-covid world.

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