Rumors of the demise of brick-and-mortar have been rampant for decades, but in many industries, physical locations are a necessity and an opportunity. Plenty of innovation can happen when you build your programs to fit your physical location as well as the people that you serve.
Various industry experts predicted that 2017 would be the year of the “retail apocalypse,” leading to a wave of store closures that would ultimately decimate the sector. With retail titans such as Toys R Us, Macy's, Abercrombie and Fitch, and JCPenney closing 3,800 of their national locations in recent months, it seems like this apocalyptic prophecy will soon come into full fruition. A Business Insider article even went so far as to say that “walking through a mall in 2018 is like walking through a graveyard.”
The evolution of this transition seems to make sense. The current screen-driven generation is inevitable to take their business to the web. But does this mean that stores and businesses are soon to be entirely obsolete? Absolutely not. If anything, it means there is an opportunity for these entities to coincide with the same things new tech is offering: personalized experiences and innovation. It is these two attributes that will help brick and mortar not just survive, but thrive
Sean Mao, writing for Forbes in May stated, “The key to success is adapting to the latest technology and presenting a more personalized experience for the shopper.”
My field, being eldercare, is by necessity a brick-and-mortar business. However, we’ve found success by integrating technology and personal cultural programs to make residents’ experiences more personal. Just as Mao had stated, we are using the latest technology to present a more customized, unique experience.
One approach is to use our eldercare centers, Allure, as a platform to implement cultural programs like Longevity Garden and Salud Latina. We designed Longevity Garden to serve the Chinese population in Brooklyn, while Salud Latina captured a portal of the Hispanic culture in Crown Heights.
These brands serve their public by presenting the personalized experiences that Mao was talking about. Daily newspapers, a Mandarin speaking-staff and multiple Chinese TV programs are offered at Longevity Garden. Similarly, Salud Latina’s staff consists of bilingual physicians, nurses and social workers who ensure all needs are communicated accurately and timely. Creating an environment that reflects Hispanic tradition and style, we hope to draw memories, activities, and sensory experiences that are familiar to their history.
We have even tried to take the concept of using technology to benefit our brick-and-mortar business by integrating with it. EarlySense is a great example of this integration. This technology gives medical staff the ability to detect, early on, a potential hazard or concern, measuring heart rate, respiratory rate, turning and positioning. This allows our doctors to take preventive action as a result of the EarlySense technology that is outfitted in every bed. This technology has been shown to reduce patients’ falls along with their bed sores.
EarlySense is not the only example of how Allure has used technology to provide a more personalized experience to our clients. Our work with TeleHealth has proven to supplement our already robust physicians. This is how it works: When a resident has an urgent medical need late in the evening or perhaps on a holiday or weekend, our staff contacts a TeleHealth doctor, who will then guide our staff via video. Doctors can order additional labs and tests to reach a proper diagnosis, treating many medical conditions without a trip to the emergency room. This prevents unnecessary ambulance rides and extra expenses for our patients as well.
Although my industry is unique to that of the general brick-and-mortar spectrum, I believe that all businesses can use technology just as Allure has, to not only keep brick-and-mortars alive, but allow them to serve their clients better than any application on an iPhone ever could. In fact, some businesses have already been successful after making these technological strides.
More evidence for the revitalization of brick-and-mortar outlets comes from Nordstrom, which recently opened stores called Nordstrom Local. Here, consumers can grab a coffee or cocktail, and talk with a stylist. During this conversation, the stylist demonstrates how products will look on the client using an augmented reality program. If consumers see something they like, they can then have items delivered to the store.
Indeed, Nordstrom has adapted the latest technology to present a more personalized experience for their shoppers. They knew that it was important for their clients to see what a product looked like on them before purchasing it--a key weakness of online shopping, especially where it concerns clothing and shoes. With the use of the augmented reality program, they were able to do just that.
As Mao further explains in the Forbes article, “Augmented reality can allow brands to provide the sort of engagement and personalization that customers want, thus securing sales and more importantly, customer loyalty.”
In addition, the article explains how having augmented reality in the store can be used as a tool to create an active digital engagement with their audience.
“Impressed with one look, in particular, the customer asks the artist to apply the product to their face and later makes a purchase.” Mao said. “They also buy a few more items referenced from the other looks and request a tutorial to be sent to them via text message to learn how to apply the products at home.”
Nordstrom’s ability to reach their customers surpasses the limits of many traditional, physical retail outlets. This is exactly how brick-and-mortar will survive and flourish in this new technological age. Storefronts will not be replaced by web addresses; instead, they will be enhanced by new technology, broadening their offerings to create deeper and more personal relationships with the people they serve — whether it’s an ailing senior or a Millennial shopper.
Joel Landau is the Founder and Chairman of The Allure Group