Physical experiences are making a comeback as people flock to cruises, theme parks, retail stores and other places that were largely avoided or entirely unavailable during the height of the pandemic.

But customer expectations have changed. People want better experiences than they had pre-pandemic. They want mobile check-ins, quick, efficient checkouts, readily available items in stock and other amenities to improve their experiences at physical locations.

But many retailers are failing to keep the physical experiences they offer on par with digital experiences.

Chris Gianutsos wrote for Ad Age that customer experience tends to break down in the physical realm, like when a brick-and-mortar store doesn’t have an item that the website said was in stock. He blamed this disconnect on failure to invest in physical experiences, and failure to address end-to-end customer relationships across physical and digital channels.

However, there are some ways organizations can shift to offer improved physical experiences, build foot traffic from current customers and attract new business.

1. Redefine Physical Stores

According to Jonathan Yaffe, AnyRoad CEO, the world is in the midst of a shift — from a “things” economy to an experience economy. And many brands are already evolving their strategies with this idea in mind.

“That's why Dick’s Sporting Goods, for example, has replaced stores with ‘House of Sports’ locations, complete with batting cages, rock climbing walls and fitness classes,” said Yaffe. “Michaels, the arts and crafts supply store, now teaches live art classes to over a million consumers a year, both in-store, and online.”

These brands are taking advantage of newer technology that allows them to optimize the ROI of their experiential programs with data, Yaffe added. “Antiquated metrics like sales per square foot are being replaced for experiential performance indicators like brand conversation, loyalty and lifetime value. Brands are able to experiment and iterate on experiential investments just as they would with a new digital or social media campaign.”

Related Article: Investment in Digital In-Store Experiences Gains Traction

2. Fold in the Mobile App

JOANN Fabrics and Crafts, with more than 850 storefronts and 69 million customers (online and in-store) uses location technology to make it easier for customers to locate items through the company’s mobile app and place orders online if they can't find them in-store, said Nick Patrick, Radar CEO.

“If the app detects that a customer is using it at a JOANN’s location, it will send an in-app offer for the customer to fulfill their purchase through instead of visiting a competitor,” Patrick said. “ It’s a win-win, boosting engagement for JOANN and convenience for customers.”

Learning Opportunities

3. Use a 6E Strategy

In-store mobile app functions are just one way brick-and-mortar stores of the future can use physical experiences to augment digital ones, according to Forrester's 2021 report.

“For retailers, the future of buying must include a proactive strategy for creating stores designed to win, serve and retain channel-agnostic, digitally savvy consumers,” the research firm said.

To build purpose-designed physical locations that deliver enhanced customer experience, the firm recommends the 6E strategy:

  • Engage
  • Emulate
  • Expand
  • Empower
  • Execute
  • Enable

Though some retailers are spending money on offering “mind-blowing” experiences, the report indicated that retailers are better off investing in stores that conveniently and consistently fill consumer needs for hard and soft goods, providing diverse capabilities for catering to different consumer preferences and limiting pain points.

In addition to in-store mobile app functions, Forrester recommended retailers provide interactive displays, store log-ins, automated checkouts and experience centers to keep customers engaged.

Related Article: IoT: Wealth of Opportunity of Waste of Time?

Final Thoughts

After a long hiatus, customers have returned to physical stores and experiences. But they’re much more likely to stay online — or go to a competitor’s brick-and-mortar store — if you don’t offer a physical experience that engages and motivates them.