The future reimagined

The New Role of Brick and Mortar in a World of Online Commerce 

Fresh Solutions

The growing popularity of online shopping doesn’t have to mean that the era of brick and mortar stores has come to an end. Finding ways to make the best of both worlds can create more value for brands. We gathered some fascinating examples of the most innovative brick and mortar approaches. 

*Huge changes driving the growth of ecommerce can happen faster than expected (looking at you, COVID-19). When we were first writing this article back in March, there was no sign of a possible lockdown in Finland. Yet here we are: amidst a global pandemic with traditional retail slowing down and ecommerce soaring. So please note: the following examples are from the good old pre-corona times. But when the world starts opening up again, there will be an even bigger need for fresh ideas and new inspiration to take traditional retail experience to the next level.*

There is no denying that the growth of online shopping has forced brands to rethink the way they utilise brick and mortar. Mirela Stan, Marketing Lead at Posti, agrees that brick and mortar stores struggle to survive on their own. “But instead of abandoning the physical, retailers should recognise the ways brick and mortar can add value for ecommerce,” Stan says. 

Through experience at Posti’s new flagship Box by Posti, Stan has noticed that people still want to see and try on products before making the final decision. “And besides showrooming, a physical store can give a brand unique possibilities to tell its story and engage with the customers,” Stan adds. 

Let’s look at some examples of how different brands have tackled the challenge of keeping brick and mortar alive.

Seamless Shopping Experiences

Multiple brands have started reviving brick and mortar by adopting the best practices of online commerce. According to McKinsey & Company the winners are the brands that let the digital world enter traditional stores and meet the customer expectations changed by the possibilities the online shopping can offer. 

Thanks to online, today’s customers have high demands for fluency. Nike’s House of innovation 000 is a good example of how physical shopping can be almost as effortless as shopping online. While wandering down the aisles of the flagship store, customers scan QR-codes of products they would like to try on. The products get added to a virtual shopping cart and sent to a fitting room. Finally, the customer can skip the queue by paying with the Nike App.

Glossier, a beauty brand with a cult reputation amongst Millenials and Gen Z, has also renewed the way of purchasing. In its physical stores, cashiers have been replaced by salespersons carrying tablets. After ordering and paying, the customer's name is called at a pick up counter. While waiting, the shoppers can chill on a sofa or take a perfect selfie in one of the many very instagrammable corners of the shop. Glossier offers the customers a holistic shopping experience, something they can’t have in a virtual world. The shop is full of mirrors and, therefore, encouragement to test the products – or even doing the day's makeup.

Amazon has taken fluency to the next level in its grocery stores by erasing the entire payment phase. When entering the store the customers “sign up” with an app. Then they simply take what they want and walk out. The products are added into a virtual shopping cart and charged from the Amazon account automatically. 

Information Is Everything

Today there is more product information available to consumers than ever before. Be it peer reviews, best prices, ingredient information or sustainability numbers – information matters. But the myriad of information available in an online store can be hard to cram into a physical one. Luckily brands have found creative ways to quench the consumers’ thirst for knowledge also in brick and mortar stores.

For example in Nike House of Innovation 000, more product information can be revealed through QR-codes. In addition to the customer’s own smartphone, some retailers offer in store devices for customers to learn more. Cosmetics brand Sephora uses iPads in its stores to offer deeper information, for example about their products’ suitability to specific skin types.

Amazon in turn utilizes digital price tags in its physical bookstores. The tags enable customers to compare the regular price with the member price, show the average star rating of each book and the number of reviews it has received in the online world.

Expanded Possibilities for Storytelling

As customers’ habits change, Posti too has gotten down to business. The growth of ecommerce is a phenomenon that people at Posti get to work on daily. Box by Posti, a physical space linking customers and online retailers, was born out of this work. Box is a result of coworking throughout the Posti organisation, and employees still actively participate in planning what’s happening next in the space.

“Behind the idea of Box is an urge to help Finnish online retailers grow,” says Mirela Stan. Many of Posti’s retail customers don’t have their own brick and mortar stores. This is why Box has a showroom where customers can get to know the products before making an order. Box employees are educated to answer questions about the products and brands in 6 languages. Box is also a venue for gatherings, workshops and events. Retailers can organise their own events to tell their story even bigger, to engage and to offer something more to their customers.

In Box all of the actions of sending and receiving parcels are digitized and it’s also a home to the world's biggest pickup point of over 600 lockers. 

Greener Ecommerce With Creative Brick and Mortar 

“Another big force behind Box is the growing need for sustainable ecommerce,” Stan points out. All the parcels sent from Box are carbon compensated, and the customers can leave their used parcels at a recycling point for others to reuse. The location in the center of Helsinki enables people to collect their parcels while running other errands or on their way home from work. This diminishes the emissions of home deliveries.

According to Stan, a service that the customers have praised is the fitting room for online purchases located in the heart of Box. The innovation makes online shopping not only easier but also greener. “In the worst case, people don’t bother returning their online purchases and leave them unused. Offering the possibility to try on and return the item on the spot hopefully prevents this,” Stan adds. And who knows, maybe someday soon the customers can fit clothes virtually at Box before making an order online. With a test ground like Box, any idea can be turned into an experiment together with the service designers keeping Posti design den downstairs.

What we can learn from these examples is that innovation, an open mind and creativity play a key role if brands want to stay on the crest of the wave. And at Posti, we want to help tap into all that creative energy. If you wish to tackle the challenges of the continuously changing world with us, check out our open positions here!

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