In-Store Experience in an Omni-Channel World

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Last year, Apple’s Senior Vice President of Retail, Angela Ahrendts, spoke at the company’s keynote about how their stores were becoming “town squares,” as well as the retailer’s new consumer education program, , which provides free classes to customers, such as in-person “photo walks” intended to teach iPhone users how to produce stunning shots. Ahrendts previously told Business Insider: “We don’t really need to open more stores, but we need to open incredible places that almost behave like a town square, like a gathering place.”

The idea is that brick-and-mortar retail must evolve to complement and promote online shopping and sales. More than ever, retailers must innovate the in-person experience, as well as omni-channel supply chain management and forecasting.

Companies Leading the Way Towards Omni-Channel

Apple is not the first nor the last to focus on experiences that can drive physical traffic and continue to support an omni-channel system.

A recent sums up what is happening in retail: “In the pre-digital era, the relationship between brick-and-mortar retail stores and their customers was largely transactional— places to fulfill supply and demand. Yet as online commerce continues to grow exponentially, the role of the retail store is shifting from purely pragmatic to more experiential. Moving forward, the key to survival for retail stores may rely on their ability to act as a living showcase for products and brands.”

Consider the following examples:

  • Neiman Marcus: The luxury department store went to extremes in past decades to host fortnights, transforming some stores to represent different countries and promote a global view of style (and products).
  • JackRabbit: This running shop provides special in-store experiences, including a custom assessment to determine which shoe will best fit a particular customer. Similar to Today at Apple, JackRabbit also hosts group runs and special events for runners in the communities where they live or work.
  • Nike: Currently testing a high-tech concept called the Nike + Running Trial Zone, which uses treadmills with video screens to create a 90-second run in destinations such as Central Park, and then provides performance analysis.
  • Tesla: The forward-thinking car maker is developing interactive stores in which consumers can custom design cars in a special studio and then share them on social media. Forbes editors think that bet on in-store experience is paying off, based on increasingly strong reservations for Tesla automobiles.

Bottom line for Omni-Channel

While the live experience complements and promotes online marketing and sales, and can help shape demand, it is also part of an increasingly omni-channel commercial scheme that makes supply and demand planning evermore complex. Forecasting is more complicated than ever as consumers shop, purchase, and consume across an array of physical and digital channels. Retailers must consider more and more variables, from attendance at in-store events to the value of space for marketing versus sales.

As retailers adjust to the digital and omni-channel world, they must create experiences that are unattainable online, and that promote a sales and fulfillment scheme that spans an increasingly complex mix of channels.