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The Enduring Value Of Brick-And-Mortar Retail
While much of the retail industry has been focused on ecommerce over the past decade, we’ve recently begun to see a shift back towards brick-and-mortar. With more and more digitally native brands opening up physical locations, it’s important for retailers of all kinds to understand the unique value of each shopping experience. The great migration back to brick-and-mortar retail underscores some of the essential inadequacies of ecommerce, the enduring value of the in-store experience—and highlights where retailers should be focusing their efforts for the future.
Like most stories on retail trends, let’s first look to Amazon. The ecommerce giant recently announced that it will be closing down dozens of its “Amazon Pop-Up Stores” across the country. At first glance, this news seems to imply a move away from its expansion into physical retail—but, in reality, the opposite is true. Unlike the “temporary concept shop” model that the name suggests, Amazon Pop-Up Stores are actually just stand-alone kiosks, usually located in malls and airports, that exclusively sell Amazon devices. According to an official statement, Amazon has decided to discontinue the kiosk program in favor of “expanding Amazon Books and Amazon 4-Star, where we provide a more comprehensive customer experience and broader selection.” This reflects a shifting of values for the company, which has long traded on the speed, convenience and affordability of online purchasing. While Amazon is still mostly unparalleled in that sphere, it is clear that those attributes do not neatly translate into brick-and-mortar spaces—where the majority of sales still take place. Instead, physical retail actually benefits from all the things that online shopping promised to eliminate: human interaction, wider product assortments and a seemingly less efficient buying experience.
Of course, Amazon isn’t the only online player re-investing in brick-and-mortar. In the mattress category alone, we’ve seen a number of digital brands team up with legacy retailers and open up stores of their own. As this trend seems to be barreling full-speed ahead, the venture capital firm Fifth Wall is trying to stay ahead of the game. The firm has already raised $64.5 million with the goal of promoting collaboration between real estate owners and digital brands. “Eighty-five percent of commerce is still happening offline,” explained Dan Wenhold, principal at Fifth Wall. “The majority of customers still shop offline. Brands have to go offline.” The firm is currently working with Macerich, the third-largest mall owner in the United States, on renting retail spaces to its online start-up brands—in addition to consulting on further collaboration opportunities. As the money starts flowing into this strategy, we can expect more and more brick-and-mortar stores to begin popping up. In fact, according to estimates from Jones Lang LaSalle, an investment management company specializing in real estate, the market will see nearly 850 stores opened by ecommerce retailers over the next five years.
This shift is no doubt in part because of the changing costs of both brick-and-mortar and online retail. The digital direct-to-consumer boom was driven, in part, because it was simply more affordable to operate a strictly ecommerce brand. But that has changed as the market has evolved. The recent wave of store closures and bankruptcies from legacy brands has left many vacancies in physical retail locations like shopping malls—which, in turn, has lowered rents. At the same time, the online landscape has become more and more competitive. According to Zak Normandin, founder and CEO of digital native brand Iris Nova (the parent company of Dirty Lemon and The Drug Store), his company used to spend between $20,000 and $30,000 a day on Facebook and Instagram for customer acquisition purposes. And as the marketplace of online brands became even more crowded, the cost of social advertising has continued to rise—while the consumer engagement has dwindled.
"Consumers have become so desensitized to advertising in the digital space," Normandin recently explained during a panel at Shoptalk, a retail and ecommerce industry event. "We're inundated by ads, whether it's influencers promoting products, the actual ads that are served to you on Facebook or Instagram — your attention is pulled in so many different directions and I think consumers don't want to be advertised to anymore.”
That sentiment was echoed by Doug Stephens, author of Reengineering Retail: The Future of Selling in a Post-Digital World. He recently spoke to Retail Dive about how the nature of social marketing and online product suggestions is actually increasing the value of the brick-and-mortar experience. "The increasingly programmatic and often latent nature of the products that are being algorithmically served up to us online is actually raising the value of truly serendipitous discovery and surprise in the offline world,” Stephens explained. "The data-driven nature of many online recommendations actually winds us into tighter and tighter circles based on what we've already purchased, as opposed to expanding the realm of possibilities. For these reasons, the sheer joy of discovering a remarkable little retail shop with remarkable products is something that is becoming more prized in my opinion.”
The move towards brick-and-mortar retail may also be helpful in weeding out the seemingly endless number of online-only companies. Normandin theorized that many of these brands have been able to make a name for themselves, not because of a knock-out value proposition, but because of their eye-catching marketing strategies. As online advertising’s return on investment decreases, retail brands will need to truly differentiate themselves and their products in order to maintain success.
So while ecommerce has often been lauded for being more convenient than in-store shopping, the reality is that online purchasing is not necessarily more satisfactory than buying at a brick-and-mortar store. According to Bob Phibbs, CEO of the consulting firm The Retail Doctor, online returns are “six to seven times higher than in store.” Even if online platforms purport to make it easier for consumers to research products, the process can still be frustrating. A well-designed search function should help consumers navigate the inventory of an ecommerce site—but due to imprecise search terms or confusing product tagging, shoppers are oftentimes left with either too many or too few results.
Conversely, brick-and-mortar retail spaces can more seamlessly facilitate browsing—and directly connect consumers with knowledgeable sales staff than can help them find what they’re looking for. As Stephens sees it, ”retailers with the capacity to curate unique assortments of products or to sell their assortments through a uniquely crafted experience will maintain a solid competitive position relative to online competitors.”
New Content From Sleep Retailer + Our Tips For Social Media Sharing
A while back we wrote about the value of content marketing. Content marketing is shared content (images, videos, blog articles, social media and even podcasts) that stimulates interest in a product or service but does not directly promote a brand. This form of engagement builds awareness of your store and what it offers consumers by providing useful information or memorable entertainment.
Content marketing remains a terrific way to engage with shoppers in between visits to your store. It also serves as a great reminder to your customers that you care about them—you like to provide them with resources, information and support even when you’re not directly selling them something.
Many manufacturers build content support into the deal when partnering with retailers. They offer their retail partners exclusive promotional materials and other content that can be utilized to drive both in-store and online traffic.
With the publication of our new consumer-facing magazine, Sleep Shopper, we are also offering our retail partners some new content to share with their customers! By visiting sleepretailer.com/sleep-shopper, you’ll have access to a whole new library of shareable content to post on social media.
From product guides with advice for valuable sleep solutions to past sleep science articles and brief introductions to various product categories and more, our library of articles will add new life to your social feed.
Tips For Sharing Sleep Shopper Articles On Social Media
Clickable Content: Pithy Standalone Excerpts Get Shares
When we post stories on social media, we approach it in a few ways. For news-y articles we like to share an interesting quote or sentence or two that doesn’t entirely rely on the title to inform it. The goal is to announce the news clearly and succinctly while also generating interest.
When we share more actionable articles having to do with sleep science or how-to’s on marketing, bedtime routines, etc., we tend to break them up into different sections and share the story with one stand-alone fact or advice. This way the reader doesn’t have to read the full article to take something important away from it. But at the same time, if they see the excerpt as valuable and interesting, they are more likely to click through, share or like the post.
Here’s an example:
One option for tweeting (if you’re perpetually logged in to your store’s Twitter) is to click the tweet button at the bottom of each Sleep Retailer article (other news sites do this too).
If you schedule your social channel content in advance and are not simply “retweeting with a comment,” we recommend that you shorten the links using https://bitly.com/ or another link shortening service to optimize them for social media.
Try Different Things For Different Channels And Audiences
This one is simple. What works for Twitter might not work for Facebook. Facebook is an arena for slightly longer posts (but not too long), while to-the-point is the way of the game for Twitter. For Instagram, focus on the visual and let the caption be a bonus (do you read the caption when you use Instagram?).
The more complicated part of this one is to always keep your audience in mind. Who do you want to reach? Most likely the answer is consumers. But think about the demographic. Does your store resonate with a specific audience? Do you want to keep it that way or branch out? As you work on planning your store’s marketing strategy both online and through additional routes, continually ask yourself these types of questions and let the answers inform and shape your approach.
It’s tempting to strive to reach all social media users all the time, but sometimes quality over quantity rings true—especially if you are managing a smaller store or small chain with limited bandwidth. While some companies might have the ability to hire employees dedicated to social media or even whole teams devoted to social media, many do not.
Our advice is to choose 1-3 social media channels (a number that you know you can manage) and focus on making that account(s) super strong. Be thoughtful and consistent with your posts (posting a similar amount per day and in a similar style seems to work) and be creative too!
While there’s lots of tips and tricks out there for how to effectively manage social media, from our perspective, the most successful accounts seem to have distinctive voices, internal standards for managing their social presence and they seem to have fun with it. A viral video might work for some, but thoughtful, well-timed content consistently shared will slowly but surely build your following.
Remember that on your store’s social media accounts, it might take time to get into a posting groove in order to build your audience. And you might have to experiment a little bit to see what works best for each channel and audience. Be patient and enjoy the ride.
Why You Should Add A Bath To Your Nighttime Routine
For the many Americans who struggle with insomnia, it can be tempting to turn to pharmaceuticals in order to get a good night’s rest. But it turns out one of the best sleep aids is all-natural and essentially free. Studies have shown that taking a bath before bed is not only a classic way to relax—but an effective solution for helping you fall asleep.
It’s common knowledge that a bath can be soothing experience, but research has suggested that it does more than simply calm the mind. Because the body’s core temperature naturally drops before sleep, raising your body temperature a few hours before bed can actually trigger this process and prepare both your body and brain for rest.
While the relaxation effect comes from the heat, it doesn’t hurt to indulge in some spa-like features too. Try adding lavender oil or Epsom salts for an even more relaxing bathing experience. If you don’t have a bathtub—or simply don’t like it—a hot shower with some lavender body wash will also do the trick.
In order to make the most of your sleep-boosting bath, researchers suggest slipping into the tub a few hours before you plan on getting into bed. That’s because our bodies need time to calm down after a long day. “The brain is preparing for sleep about two hours before our actual bedtime,” explains Rebecca Scott, research assistant professor of neurology at the NYU Langone Comprehensive Epilepsy Center—Sleep Center. “We literally go from billions of neurons firing up all day to keep us alert, active and engaged, and that waking system has to slowly come down to allow the sleep system to take over.” Using this decompression period to take a bath is the best way to signal to your brain that it should start slowing down and preparing for rest.
One famous proponent of the nighttime bath is media mogul turned sleep guru Arianna Huffington. She follows her soak by putting on actual pajamas—not sweatpants or leggings. Having outfits that are solely dedicated for bedtime can help signal to your brain that it’s time for sleep (instead of the gym or running errands).
Above all else, it’s important to simply prioritize your sleep—and stick to a nighttime routine that supports it.
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