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Opinion: Clicks to bricks retailers are creating true disruption says Doug Barber

With an increasing amount of consumers choosing to shop online rather than in-store, it could seem that the future of the high street is bleak. However, a considerable amount of e-commerce businesses are taking their brands offline and opening their first brick and mortar stores, injecting some much needed vigour back into the high street.

This year Barber Design was proud to be a part of the design and implementation of Simply Be and Jacamo’s first flagship store on Oxford Street, bringing their online plus sized clothing ranges to one of London’s busiest high streets. As part of the strategy key elements were brought into the retail environment to emulate the online experience.  The store concept is being rolled out to other strategic locations across the UK.

In an interview earlier this year, Angela Spindler, the chief executive of NBrown group, which owns the Simply Be and Jacamo brands, stated the intent behind the planned store openings: “The reason for us opening stores is not because we want to maximise retail sales, it is because we want to maximise online sales.”

Simply Be and Jacamo are not alone in seeing the benefits of moving into brick and mortar stores. Nasty Gal, the incredibly successful American online fashion retailer opened its first store in Los Angeles this year. This 3,500 square foot retail space features a selection of apparel, intimates, accessories, tech and gifts, alongside vintage pieces, a magazine library, a live cactus garden and a shoe salon. The founder and chief executive said, “We are engineering sharable moments, both visual and experiential, into our stores. We are creating real-life social media by engaging the community we have built purely online. Where that goes is truly limitless.”

Many retailers are following suit and offering more than just retail in store, striving to make the most of their physical spaces. An ongoing trend for the ‘experiential in retail’ is helping build brand recognition and engage with consumers within the whole shopping experience, offering something which online shopping inherently lacks.

Urban Outfitters’ Space Ninety 8 concept in Brooklyn, New York, brought together its tried and tested retail model alongside a marketplace for local designers merchandise, a restaurant, bar, gallery and rooftop garden. It created a space for people to not only shop but also to stay and enjoy the entire brand experience.

Larger retailers are not the only ones to develop such local services in store. Rapha, a previously online company developed its stores, called Rapha Cycle Clubs, to be inspiring meeting places for local cycle enthusiasts first and a retail store second, successfully positioning its brand as a hub for the sport within the community. The addition of an instore café providing quality food and beverages as well as live streaming of racing provides a shopping experience that isn’t possible online.

Increased physical presence on the high street can directly impact online sales too. John Lewis saw investment in physical stores lead to a 30 percent rise in local online sales. Similar investment can also help smaller companies and start-ups gain presence online through having pop-up stores in key locations. It can be very difficult to get noticed online and reach the right consumers, but having a pop-up - even for a short time - will give shoppers tangible brand interaction which may result in them sharing their experience of going there by tweeting or sharing an image, leading to an increased online presence.

Despite growing online sales some 95% of all retail transactions are captured by retailers with a bricks and mortar presence. With experiential shaping the future of retail design, online retailers have much to gain from taking their brands offline and connecting with consumers in a way that their online offerings simply can’t achieve. This opens up exciting opportunities for retail designers: any online brand serious about maximizing its brand values is coming to the high street with fresh thinking and dedicating space to ‘the customer experience’.   Traditional retailers are following suit and allowing space for customers to play, relax and interact with their brand.  Rather than the demise of the high street we are looking at the birth of ‘true retail innovation’ across multi channel platforms.

Doug Barber is the founder of Barber Design