The resurgence of IRL retail

gymshark flagship store regent street

2020, the year that made us all stay inside; the year of online shopping. The Covid-19 pandemic caused an extortionate growth in online sales leaving bricks and mortar retail in the dust.

Since then, we have all been left grappling with the idea of what a new normal will look like and whether the “old normal” will ever return. Many habits have been altered during our time inside, with buying behaviour harvesting the biggest alteration and IRL (in real life) retail seeing little resurgence post-pandemic. However, 2022 has seen a comeback with 74.3% of UK retail sales taking place in-store.

E-commerce sales grew by 50% throughout the pandemic and the convenience of an online purchase will always remain. Despite this, no matter how much time and effort online shopping can save, some of us will always prefer the sensation that comes with physically buying goods in-store. The return to normality of in-store shopping is seeming more likely by the day, but what is causing this?

Why do people want to return to in-store shopping?

Retail therapy, though a little cliché does hold some weight and may not be as far-fetched as you think. Shopping in general, whether that be online or in-person releases dopamine and being in a physical store has a positive impact on our mood.

The reason retail therapy works is because that simple anticipation of the eventual possibility of a reward i.e. new clothes, is what releases the dopamine. This could correlate to the increase of people returning to retail as online shopping doesn’t offer the instant gratification that purchasing in-store can.

It’s not just the purchase that makes us happy, but the whole buyer journey. The experience that in-person shopping offers us is extensive compared to the website scrolling done on the sofa. Sensory inputs such as touch, smell and hear, not only provide personal fulfilment, but also eliminate potential discrepancies between what a customer wants and what a customer gets.

Online retailers investing in real life stores

Despite being the leading online retailer, Amazon is investing in more in-person shopping experiences. Amazon Go stores are going down a treat across the US and the UK.

The stores offer an in-person shopping experience mixed with innovative technology and customers are enjoying the experience.

Amazon Go store. Image Credit: Mark Harris/The Guardian

Even Google has jumped on the bandwagon by opening their first in-person retail store. Both of these companies have adopted ideas from the characteristics of concept stores which are becoming more common post pandemic.

Concept stores are becoming increasingly popular as they allow brands to showcase a carefully curated selection of their products in an innovative manner. These stores usually represent the brand’s values in a physical way, aiding customers with an immersive experience from the moment they enter the store.

The growth in concept and flagship stores

One of the most successful concept stores is the Late Night Chameleon Café in London (LN-CC). Described by themselves as a ‘progressive retail concept’, the company operates via a single store and e-commerce site built upon the vision of “creating a strong brand and a good interactive customer experience”.

Many successful online only brands are opening flagship stores which implement concept store design within them.

Recently, Gymshark opened their flagship store in Regent Street, London. Spanning across 2 floors and 18000 square feet the store offers a combination of fitness conditioning, retail and community.

gymshark store yoga space
The Hub in Gymshark’s new flagship

Consumers have the opportunity to browse Gymsharks range of sportswear with the option to try them on in the light and temperature adjusting changing rooms.

Gymshark have not only delivered their audience with a brand new experience, but also made it completely accessible to people of all walks of life.

Shoppers can become part of the Gymshark community by participating in personal training sessions run by certified personal trainers. The classes available are group or 1-2-1 sessions, all of which take place in two conditioning rooms located inside the store. Other talks and workshops are hosted throughout the day all of which are free of charge.

This type of flagship store is growing in popularity, with Gymshark harnessing experiential spaces, community, and enhancing IRL retail through technology.

The buyer’s journey becomes an adventure. You leave the store with not just the excitement of a new purchase, but a day of memories.

In-store retail and online shopping working in perfect harmony

Could the demand for return to in-person retail phase out online shopping? Is the drive for real life experiences going to take over? Or will a new normal include a hybrid of both in-store and online shopping?

The experience of a physical store is unique and online shopping cannot replicate this. In-store shopping is more than just a purchase. Retail stores allow consumers to shop in groups, with family or friends and aspects like this cannot be achieved online – at least not yet.

What we are seeing is online retailers using their technological expertise, to bring entirely innovative real life retail concepts.

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