The Return of Real-World Retail | Digital Displays Impact Shopper Experience

How shoppers’ five senses are reviving in-person retail

Cyberspace gives retailers a global presence with none of the physical hassles while delivering consumers a virtually-instantaneous experience. But (with apologies to Mark Twain) the rumors of the demise of in-person shopping have been greatly exaggerated. So why is there a renaissance in real-world retail?

There are numbers to support the idea of this rebirth and a few that detract from it, but there’s one constant that seems to win in the end: it’s humans who are doing the buying. Online may be fast and footwork-free, but it’s image is starting to feel the pinch from shoppers who want to touch, see, and hear the items they’re interested in.

The figures that make Amazon cheer: Brick and mortar bombing?

The stats on how many street stores are closing shop could be blamed for the idea that physical is finished. Close to 7,000 stores shut their doors in 2017 and named migration to online sales as the prime culprit (some sources cite the figure as being closer to 9,000).

Some sources measure the closures in millions of square feet lost this year, while others simply count the brands that have closed certain locations or simply gone out of business. There are some big names on that list including Toys R Us, Walgreens, and the Gap. These are the kind of giants most would think are immune from shifts in consumer taste, but the stats are a lesson that even the big guys can go under. At the same time, others continue to thrive – with a smart strategy.

The flipside: Brick and mortar booming?

In contrast, consider this recent data from the U.S. Census Bureau and the Department of Commerce. Table 1 (Page 2) shows dominance in retail sales … by real-world stores. They’re outstripping their cyber competition by 10 to one, with e-commerce accounting for many millions of dollars but ultimately only about 9.0% of total retail sales.

The other 91% of purchases are still being made at physical locations. So, just what is keeping these brick and mortar retailers alive and, in many cases, thriving?

Understanding the “chore and cherish” effect

Day-to-day living requires many mundane items. When we walk, drive, or ride to pick up items like bathroom tissue, detergent and deodorant, we do so because they’re things we must shop for. These personal care and cosmetic products aren’t exactly a thrilling buy, which is why these “chore” purchases account for most buys made online. Shoppers simply aren’t motivated by them like they are when shopping for something that’s more personal and exciting.

At the other end of the customer spectrum is the “cherish” retail experience. This hinges on three cores: novelty, personalization, and connection. These aspects are things that physical stores excel at providing – both through the product they sell and the in-store experience.

Something to cherish

This is where the physical stores start to edge ahead. They offer social interactivity that digital cannot. A welcome greeting as customers enter can combine with sights, sounds, smells, and the opportunity to see and touch a product; this experience is valued by over half of consumers.

Being able to see a product is a big draw among shoppers, second only to being able to touch it. Being able to handle what we see is also a decisive factor in following through on a purchase or engaging with a brand. This creates a connection that no online experience can match. In addition, remember that while e-commerce shopping is instantaneous, delivery isn’t. It’s an illusion of immediate gratification.

Physical stores offer the chance to engage with a product and take it home that minute. And consumers still value “cherish” experiences as a chance to engage physically, express themselves aesthetically, and connect with an item on a personal level. The retailer who can communicate with these customers and offer an equally individual in-store experience is more likely to see increased sales.

How businesses can novelize, personalize, and hybridize

This list explaining how to optimize the customer experience from Small Business Trends places interactivity, social media, and relevant in-store content as prime ways to individualize physical retail. In short, you need a combination of real-life experiences with digital ones. An in-store medium which ticks all those boxes is also the most vibrant and effective way to let your customers know who you are and what’s on offer: digital displays.

The most advanced digital providers can develop customized displays that exist for your store and no one else. These elevate your customer experience to one which ties seamlessly into your physical and digital inventory; what’s in stock, what’s on its way, and what’s currently on sale. What’s shown on these digital signs is as versatile as our imagination. If it can be conceived, it can be digitally realized.

The digital in-store experience also involves sound. Tailored audio helps create a unique retail environment, and a wealth of research shows the power the right music also has over purchasing habits.

Beyond these benefits, digital signage is interactive; it can communicate with customers and direct them to what they’re looking for in the store. And digital displays make updating specials, sales, new items, and other vital information easy. A central user interface allows displays to be updated instantly across any number of signs, ensuring only the most current information is on display.

There’s no arguing that these are transitional times for the retail sector. This change is killing some brick and mortar stores, while others are adapting. The physical retailer who can capitalize on the in-person experiences that many shoppers still crave will survive – and beat its competition.


At Zero-In we’re passionate about creating digital experiences for the real world. Our award-winning agency includes web application specialists, motion graphic designers, computer and audiovisual hardware engineers, and network specialists. You can chat with us live on our site or complete the contact form to get more information.