Bricks and mortar retailers have been in crisis mode in recent years. The ubiquity of online shopping, coupled with the commoditization of virtually all categories of products, has forced companies to change the way they engage with their customers.

The store of the future will be all about the experience. Creating unique and engaging shopping environments will be the only way for many companies to maintain relevance in a hyper-competitive market.

Leading companies have already begun to address these imminent changes. By introducing novel approaches aimed at changing the dynamic of the store, sellers are hoping to capitalize on their biggest asset – the physical space.

With that in mind, here are three trends that will continue to shape physical shopping experience in the coming years.

1 – Shopping will be much more interactive

Stores no longer want to just sell products – they want to make the process of buying those products an interactive experience in and of itself. Shopping will become more of an event, where customers can engage with the physical space, brand, and products at the same time. Stores will focus their resources on creating “exhibits” that allow customers to immerse themselves in a shopping adventure.

One particularly interesting case study is that of augmented reality. While this technology has previously been an afterthought for brands, it may be the perfect fit for physical retail. Toy retailer Toys R Us – fresh off its bankruptcy announcement – recently introduced a mobile app called Play Chaser. According to the company’s website, Play Chaser is designed to turn the store “into an interactive digital theme park.”

By using the app, customers can bring product displays to life, demo products, play games, and collect points during their journey throughout the store. According to CEO Dave Brandon, “It’s going to transform the experience of coming into a Toys R Us bricks and mortar store and turn it into something that’s quite different and a lot more fun.” In theory, Play Chaser offers endless possibilities for the company to interact with its customers in memorable ways.

Regardless of the success of this particular initiative, retailers are poised to to engage with their customers in creative ways that haven’t before been utilized. New technologies and concepts will continue to work their way into retail, allowing brands to create more interactive shopping experiences.

2 – Personalization will be paramount

Technology is not only allowing for more engagement in the shopping process, it’s also allowing it to be much more relevant and useful. Customer data has always been of importance to marketers, but as big data becomes more ubiquitous, stores will utilize customer data to create in-store content that is more targeted than ever before.

Imagine using your phone to log in to a store’s database when you enter, giving that retailer permission to access your purchase history, demographics, and other relevant info. As you advance through the store, digital displays provide you with customized promotions and product suggestions that match your interests. That’s exactly what British clothing retailer Fartech demonstrated at a recent event.

With devices becoming more interconnected, stores are seeing the opportunity to bring more relevancy and value to their customers through the use of personalization. In a perfect world for retailers and customers, these technologies will blend seamlessly into the shopping experience and result in more satisfying shopping visits – for customer and retailer.

3 – Stores will be places to gather, not just shop

Having top-notch technology is great for retailers, but it won’t mean much if customers don’t show up. The most significant threat to bricks and mortar retail is the convenience factor of buying goods online. To further differentiate the physical store from the digital one, many retailers will focus on turning their spaces into multi-purpose hubs, where customers will be able to do things other than shop.

At Bespoke, located in San Francisco, mall developer Westfield Group has created a space that stands out in the traditional shopping center. According to the company’s website, “Bespoke is a trifecta of coworking, demo, and event spaces….where tech and retail marketplaces converge.”

More than anything, the goal of Bespoke is to be a place that draws in new people – i.e. potential customers – every day. The example of Bespoke demonstrates that it’s becoming less about maximizing revenue per square foot and more about finding ways to generate a consistent stream of customers. Following the lead of Bespoke and other locations like it, other retailers and developers will find ways to create unique, community-centric spaces of their own.

Companies will continue to build on these trends, utilizing new technologies, store designs, concepts, and more as a means to bring more value to the physical store . As retailers continue to invest heavily in the shopping experience, customers will be exposed to interesting ideas at a faster rate than ever before.

Ultimately, the focus on the retail experience will be a boon for consumers. It will make the physical shopping experience more gratifying and unique, allowing customers to form better relationships with the brands they trust.

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