The changing role of brick and mortar stores

The past few years have seen a dramatic shift in focus for retailers. With rising rents, fears of a dying high street, business strategies for cutting costs and the suggestion that consumers would rather spend their money on experiences over goods.

Retailers are having to reassess the purpose of their store in these ‘innovate or die’ times. We look into how some brands are reimagining retail spaces to not just survive the hard times but revolutionise and thrive and look at the changing role and importance of creating physical experiences to engage customers and drive footfall.

The bright colours of Depop's first brick and mortar store and showroom

The effect of digital on retail

The continual growth of e-commerce and convenience of online shopping combined with the current market turmoil has left many retailers reporting slumps in footfall.

But we’re noticing a turning point where consumers want more than just convenience. Digital may be able to offer seamless shopping experiences with the ease of one click to purchase from anywhere and everywhere. But this robotic like process has also taken the emotion out of the retail-therapy experience.

Sure, consumers shop for the purpose of obtaining the desired product, but it is also a social occasion, a stress-reliever, a time to amble and be inspired, and yes perhaps make a purchase along the way. The importance of finding a balance between digital and physical is vital as each feed into the other.

Having a strong online presence is crucial in this day and age, but there are some things that can only be offered by a physical space and for those loyal customers who are willing to buy online or through your social media, they also want that in-person way of interacting with your brand and offering.

Theatrical retail design at Gentle Monster

Changing roles of brick and mortar stores

Retailers need to be creating experiential and immersive experiences in-store for the customers who aren’t getting the thrill of interacting with brands solely online.


Brick and mortar stores can (and should) work seamlessly together with every other touchpoint of a brands customer journey. Brands who aren’t perfecting their omnichannel strategy are missing out on opportunities where growing numbers of consumers are using stores as proofing grounds. To test products out offline, before buying them later online. The way we view stores has shifted and brands now have the exciting opportunity to create theatrical, must-visit destinations that build brand loyalty and lead to increased online purchases.

Just the act of opening a new store can increase traffic to a retailer’s website from the surrounding area by more than 50% within six weeks of opening. This is seeing the increase in pop-up stores, where a retail space can work as a very effective marketing and inspirational vehicle for a brand.

The bright colours of Depop's first brick and mortar store and showroom

Not your standard store

In March 2018, the peer-to-peer social shopping app Depop opened its first store in Los Angeles. A very unlikely brand to need a physical space. They have admitted that they are not expecting any direct profits from the store but are using it as a marketing tool. The space is being used for word-of-mouth marketing, as a community hub to host workshops for Depop sellers, aiding growth for creative entrepreneurs, and to display a selection of products that can be bought through the app.

Gentle Monster store interior design of a theatrical scene

Retail theatre

Korean eyewear brand Gentle Monster is the pinnacle of retail theatre. With a team of around 60 designers to create their ‘immersive and experiential offline shopping experiences’. To the unknowing passer-by, you might enter their store mistaking it for a gallery or museum and you wouldn’t be too far off. Each product is exhibited throughout the space in fun, mesmerising and quirky theatrical scenes. Through clever collaborations and inspiring design, Gentle Monster has shattered our visions of what a high street store should be, and their boldness guarantees them brand recognition.

Interior of Zara click and collect store in Westfields London

Click and connect

Human interaction and personalised service are incredibly difficult (if not impossible) to offer solely online. And with the continual entwinement of online and offline retail spaces, physical stores have the growing possibilities of becoming service-led spaces that can support a brand’s e-commerce habits.

Zara opened a click-and-collect pop-up store in London that allows them to showcase their online-only collections. This idea of a showroom store gives customers a chance to browse the items they’d never normally see in person, while there to collect their online order, encouraging further impulse and add-on purchases.

Innovative Nordstrom local concept store with high table

Nordstrom Local is a similar concept store opened in Los Angeles. Designed as a service-focused store that brings together all the best bits of online shopping and personalised style advise face-to-face. No inventory is held in the store, encouraging online sales once the customer has had a chance to test-run the products. They offer a complimentary service that links to customers online order history and includes a stylist appointment and free alterations.

Nordstrom local interiors showing seating area and shelves

What next?

Now is a real opportunity for brands to create fun, vibrant, playful and memorable in-store experiences. A chance to get creative and present themselves in a way that encourages footfall and customer interactions.