Bricks & Mortar: The Human Connection

What’s the biggest edge retailers have over online? Human interaction, the tactile experience, connecting with the senses, personal engagement with the expert. All those experiences that consumers just can’t get online.

Faced with increased competition from online retailers, bricks and mortar stores need to be more attentive to the ways in which they engage and attract consumers into their physical spaces. Bringing energy and personality into your store can be the most exciting aspect of your business. It can be the ultimate reflection and expression of your core brand values.

Bottom line, get personal and get emotionally connected to your customers. Give them all the reasons you can to come back again and again. Get them to linger and wander instead of popping in and out because the connection is simply not there to get them to stay.

Retailers need to entertain and inspire customers with exciting new formats and engaging technologies to encourage them to spend more time in their stores. Finding ways to get your customers to be part of an often-unexpected experience in-store vs. the online experience, which is predominantly about speed and convenience.


Online cannot compete with an immersive, personal, human interaction and the potential for the holy grail of retail bricks and mortar shopping, instant tactile gratification. It can range from something as simple as helping a customer locate something in a mass of confusion to providing them with a place to relax and feel that you care about them without the constant push to make a purchase.

In the world of traditional retail and big-box, it’s unlikely that we are getting enough surprise and delight from our shopping experiences to keep us engaged and coming back for more. If you look at individual retailers, with their own unique identities and personalities, they treat the shopping experience as if it was a standard commodity – something there is a demand for, but which is supplied without qualitative differentiation across a market.

The retail landscape is undergoing a massive shift, with evolving consumer needs and buying behaviours. Time strapped, digitally savvy Milennials are leading the charge for online grocery shopping for example, an industry that was once considered safe from online corrosion. Last year, 43% of Millennials said they go online to grocery shop occasionally, fairly often, or all the time, up 50% since 2016 [1].

A recent survey found that 55% of Millennials stated they are spending more of their money on events and live experiences than ever before and almost 80% prefer desirable experiences over material objects [2]. It only makes sense that retailers should strive to provide their shoppers with a captivating sensory experience when they walk through a grocery store, an environment that’s bursting with opportunities to inspire. That’s where retailtainment steps in, with in-store experiential marketing.

So, as a shopper, what do I want? I’m in a world that has the capacity to tap into every one of my senses, one that has the potential to get me emotionally involved with food, fashion, finance, home furnishing, automotive, yet I’m often left walking out of the store, purchase in hand, without having been the least bit stimulated or moved. Here’s a great stat, more than half of consumers say that they’re more adventurous with their food choices than they used to be, and 50% say it’s important for them to frequently try new flavours, dishes and cuisines [3]. This, coupled with a shopper’s appetite for experiences, creates a huge opportunity for retailtainment.


4 Ways to Create Effective Retailtainment

Don’t be afraid to explore new technology. Adding dynamic décor and eye-catching media can boost appeal, inspire the consumer to try different things. Get them out of their routine—even out of their comfort zone. We have access to a range of new technology from digital signage to augmented reality that can both entertain shoppers and better inform their purchase decisions.

It’s been my experience that every good store has a cultivated personality. If it doesn’t already exist, you need to create one. But be true to your essence, to your brand. You can’t fake genuine.

Build excitement into your retail experiences that surprises and delights. Costco and Lidl do this fantastically by seeding a sense of discovery and urgency through their “treasure-hunt” strategy. They regularly rearranges goods to encourage shoppers to wander the aisles and come across products they may not have otherwise considered purchasing [4]. Unique merchandise and packs, along with a constantly rollinginventory, drives immediate purchase for fear the same items may not be available on subsequent trips.

Logic suggests that a food provider should associate its product to all the experiences connected with food. There is enormous potential for the entire store to become a sensory environment, capturing all the powerful moments in the life of the food cycle, from it’s natural state in the fields, to its preparation, to its final presentation at the table. Try and tap into all the senses. Change things up.


In conclusion…I love walking through stores with my retail partners, talking about how surprise and delight can be injected into their environments. The best brainstorming sessions happen on the floor of the store, take my word for it. And you can’t get complacent. Keep creating new and innovative ways to develop unique experiences and attract customers. The possibilities are endless.

Look out for the second part of the Bricks and Mortar story – Who’s doing the best at creating unique retail experiences. There will be some surprises!

  1. The Star
  2. Bryan Gamier
  3. Gartner L2
  4. Business Insider