Physical retail has struggled in recent years, but the industry still holds promise.

While digital competition is likely to become more aggressive, physical retail is far from dead.  Even with all the attention paid to the demise of bricks and mortar, online shopping still only accounts for less than 12% of the retail market.

Brands now understand that they must be more unique if they want to remain competitive in the physical realm.  They know they must give their customers compelling reasons to visit – over and above a good price or product selection.  

Progressive retailers are experimenting with store layouts, service offerings, fulfillment models, and more as a means to bring more value to their clients.  They are seeking to create more personal relationships with customers, which will only help them stand apart from their online adversaries.

A number of unique store concepts are showing promise as potential drivers of retail’s Next Wave.  Below are 4 such ideas currently being utilized by savvy bricks and mortar retailers.

The Mini Store

Cosmetics company Sephora recently opened the “SEPHORA Studio,” a 2,000 square foot retail store located in Boston, MA.  Coming in at less than half the size of a typical store, Sephora believes that this smaller format will allow the company to be more nimble in serving its customers due to its emphasis on services and one-on-one interactions.

According to a company press release, Studio features “an optimized…design and intimate format that fosters personalized connections between clients and the store’s top-ranking beauty advisors.”  The brand has chosen to highlight Sephora’s service offerings, such as its Beauty Studio and Custom Makeover Plus, over product breadth.

Unlike most locations, Studio carries only a “curated selection” of Sephora products.  Other products can be ordered via connected devices carried by store consultants, with customers having the option for same day delivery.  Fulfillment is conducted by neighboring Sephora locations.

With more and more shopping being done online, Sephora and similar brands realize that product selection may be less important that the overall brand interaction.  Companies opting for this model will likely also place a premium on service and personal interactions, understanding that these offerings provide more memorable experiences for customers.

The Showroom

Sharing similarities with the Mini Store, the Showroom is the store without stuff.  In this approach, companies have product available, but only enough to allow customers to sample, try on, etc., with purchases being made exclusively online.

Online retailer Bonobos may offer the most notable example of this approach.  Started in 2015, Bonobos’ Guideshops offer customers “a one-on-one experience with a Guide who will go through the product line with (them) and follow up with a summary of all the sizing, fit and style information (they) need to place (their) perfect Bonobos order.”

The idea may seem strange, but it’s a compelling one.  For customers already accustomed to making purchases online, the Showroom concept gives them an opportunity to get to know the retailer on a more personal level, while also providing the convenience of test-driving goods prior to purchase.

The showrooms seems a particularly fitting approach for online-only brands.  It doesn’t interfere with the existing business model, yet provides the face-to-face interaction of a bricks and mortar shop.  It offers a unique blend of ecommerce and bricks-and-mortar.  

The Pop Up

For brands looking to make a quick splash with customers, the Pop Up store holds promise.  Gaining in popularity over the past couple of years, this concept is built upon creating a temporary storefront, often in vacant retail space.

The short tenure of a Pop Up store offers a great way for brands to pique the interest of potential customers.  The urgency created by a temporary offering is a unique strategy for building buzz about new products or offerings.  Even Google is jumping on board, launching temporary stores in New York and Los Angeles.

While the approach is, by nature, not a sustainable one, Pop Ups can serve a valuable purpose for brands seeking to add some novelty and uniqueness to their physical offerings.

The Immersive Brand Experience

Brand experience is a notable focus for most retailers these days, and the ambiguity of that term allows for myriad interpretations.  In a way, all retail stores offer an experience to the consumer, but it’s the way this is done that ultimately affects perceptions.  

Coffee retailer Nespresso has recently launched what it’s calling an “immersive coffee experience.”  The company promises customers a “sensorial welcome,” followed by the ability to sample, learn about, and, of course, purchase Nespresso products.  There is a distinct focus on design and sustainability in the concept, which highlights the company’s values to shoppers.

Nespresso has chosen to focus more on the aesthetics of its brand than on any one particular component.  The high-end nature of Nespresso’s product line lends itself nicely to the design and layout of these locations, meaning that design ties the various components together.  Customers get a sense of the “feel” of the Nespresso brand – elegant, discerning, and premium.

This is similar to the approach Apple has taken to its physical stores.  It’s part product showcase, part brand showcase.  More than just a location to move product, the approach lies heavily on conveying brand ethos.  Expect to see more premium retailers heading this direction.

It remains to be seen exactly how the market will react to this new wave of retail offerings.  If nothing else, these examples demonstrate the innovation that many retailers are willing to apply to their physical locations.  The fact that this innovation is taking place is a good sign for the retail industry.

More trends and ideas will continue to bubble up in the coming years.  This is a challenging time for the physical store, but forward-thinking companies are willing and able to answer the call.