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Online shopping has gained hugely in popularity in recent years and there has been a great deal of speculation about the future of physical stores. Retail pessimists predict a slow but sure death. Optimists believe that the situation will not be as bad and expect that 'real' stores will always continue to meet a need. Realists opt for an omni-channel perspective in which the combination of offline and online offers shoppers the best customer journey. Obviously, the realists are right. The webshop is here to stay. However, this does not mean that physical stores will disappear from the streetscape. Having said this, retailers do need to do more to attract the shopping public to their stores and then keep shoppers in them long enough to persuade them to buy their products. 


Yes, the popularity of online shopping will continue to grow. However, if you zoom in, what is striking is that a big part of current growth has been achieved through the increase in online supermarket shopping. Particular potential exists here, as revealed by a recent sector analysis by ABN Amro. This trend reflects consumer needs. Where the necessities of life are concerned, convenience is everything. No-one wants to spend any more time than they have to in a supermarket. So, if given the opportunity to avoid the experience altogether, the average Dutch person will not say no. However, the same does not apply when buying luxury products and lifestyle items: consumers want more. Shopping and store visits become an experience. This is exactly why the De Bijenkorf department store recently decided not to continue with its traditional Drie Dwaze Dagen (a three-day sale, during which certain products are sold for rock-bottom prices). ‘People don't come to our store to get a great discount; they come here for the experience’, said Giovanni Colauto, a senior executive at De Bijenkorf.


What are the most important reasons for consumers to visit a physical store? Firstly: inspiration. Either to buy something on the spot or to buy a product later online. Consumers also want to see, touch, try out and get advice about products ‘themselves’. By doing this, they avoid taking a risk and can be absolutely sure that they have chosen the right size, colour and fit. You can also take the product home with you straight away: this is the third big advantage of buying from an offline store.


Shoppers still have a soft spot for physical stores. But: they do want to be waited on hand and foot and the time they have to spend in stores is limited. Retailers must start to put shoppers first. Shoppers want atmosphere, entertainment, stimuli and inspiration and this is not something that retailers can achieve by simply displaying a mannequin in the display window. Carin Frijters describes this in her book Prikkel de Koopknop. She says that consumers often buy unconsciously and sensory experiences play a crucial role. These are exactly the areas in which retailers are able to influence consumers. However, research shows that retailers are still failing to do this enough at the current time. Styling, smell, sound, lighting, instore communication, events and new technology: these are the perfect ingredients for a store (and shopping street) full of experience. Shopping as an outing. Consider, for example, the big Christmas markets that garden centres throughout the country will be organising again soon. Garden centres are transformed into fun parks; an experience is created there. Whole families travel to them just to enjoy the experience. These store activities have an added bonus: they encourage consumers to spend money. Recently, Michel van Slingerland, Marketing Manager at Hornbach Nederland, was interviewed by MarketingTribune and explained the Hornbach approach to shopper marketing. The company organises all kinds of activities on the store floor, because of which there is always something for shoppers to do. For example: the shopping public can use a race simulator that they will find in all nine stores. The fastest race-drivers win a race against Max Verstappen. It also organises ProjectShows, at which shoppers can roll up their sleeves and get their hands dirty.


However, success won't be guaranteed if you are the only attractive store in a shopping area. A number of conditions must be met before the perfect shopping experience can be created. The overall shopping area must be an attractive whole. A shopping area full of empty stores is guaranteed to keep the shopping public away. A role could be played here by local authorities, which could relax rules. The pop-up-shop is a great concept that can be used to breath life into shopping streets with a large number of empty store premises. These temporary stores can fill in the gaps created by empty premises in no time at all and offer the unique experience that today's shoppers want. Property owners can help too, by keeping rents affordable. This could involve offering tenants turnover-linked rents, for example.

What all of this actually boils down to is the age-old motto: ‘the customer is king’. With the advent of the online channel, retailers have lost the contact they previously had with shoppers. Restore the connection and the 'king' will find his way back to the stores. To quote retail professor Cor Molenaar: shopping is becoming entertainment again.

Niels van Straaten



"Challenges are what make life interesting and overcoming them is what makes life meaningful."

Joshua J. Marine