5 ways for retailers to merge their storefronts with their web pages

In today’s digital-savvy world, retailers have to endless opportunities to showcase their brands. As omnichannel retail becomes king, coupling brick-and-mortar stores with the power of social media, online ads and more, brands can easily communicate and be discovered by potential and current customers. But as digital retail creeps further into our lives, consumers are more likely to shop in the comfort of their own homes. With every advance in online merchandising, retailers face another battle.

The solution? Retailers need to work to create impactful experiences that consumers can’t find online. They must establish the link between positive virtual brand identity and in-person experience.

When working with retailers at the Atlantic Station mixed-use project in Atlanta, I often say, “Experiential retail starts with the eyes. It’s the first 20 feet up and 20 feet into a store or restaurant that captures a customer’s attention. You can’t get them to look at the merchandise or menu if these things are done poorly.” This is truer now than ever before.

Our social media and marketing teams work with our retailers to create spacious and social-media-worthy activations like outdoor patio displays, art murals and signage, grabbing the attention of this new generation of consumer. We’ve seen that creating an “instagrammable” moment can dramatically increase foot traffic, drawing consumers off the couch and into the store, yet reinforcing their online brand presence through social sharing.

Here are five ways retailers can accomplish this:

1. Bring the inside out. Curb appeal is everything. Extending your store beyond the walls will enhance the customer experience by establishing an immediate connection with the customer before they cross the threshold, while providing more space to market your products. In Atlantic Station, generic storefronts that reflected the faux town square look that was popular in the early 2000’s are being replaced with iconic and brand-driven looks. For example, during conversations with H&M about a major expansion project, we agreed that the exterior of the store should be renovated to further differentiate the flagship store in the marketplace. Working together, we created a highly designed urban-centric look and feel for the store that better reflects the brand and draws in customers. In cases where major renovation isn’t possible, ample outdoor areas for displays and/or seating are being incorporated. If you’re feeling bold, try bringing dressing rooms or branded mirrors with brand slogans out to the street to encourage social interaction.

2. Revamp your window displays. Engaging window displays have long been an artform, attracting thousands of interested shoppers and gawkers to New York City’s prestigious Fifth Avenue. Take advantage of available window space to create intriguing and interactive displays to attract potential customers to stop. Some retailers are using hashtags on the windows to encourage social media engagement, reaching a new audience of consumers.

3. Create an inviting atmosphere. Stores, especially those in mixed-use retail centers, tend to look better at night, as the natural contrast between the well-lit storefront and dark streetscape creates a bigger “pop” to the displayed merchandise. Displaying product online is easier because it’s meant to be seen. Successful omnichannel retailers are creating new customer experiences by having in-store and online experiences mirror each other with the same quality.

4. Use unique signage. Show your wit and your brand’s personality by implementing creative signage outside your store. Display a chalk board with clever sayings to advertise specials going on in your store and encourage social sharing. Unique signage is a great way to attract potential customers and create social moments that have the opportunity to reach a whole new audience. Established brands need to take more chances with signage. Murals, stenciled, and even non-illuminated formats not prototypical to a brand often get more attention than a sign a consumer has seen before. Living walls are also becoming a more popular option for storefronts.

5. Think locally on social. Brick-and-mortar retailers must also be willing to embrace social media at the local level. But most national chains have an inch-thick operation manual behind their cash wrap desk saying don’t talk to property management. For too long, they’ve relied on a “build it and they will come” mentality. Those days are gone. Work with your property management’s social media team to create a strategic plan to cross promote your store’s products on their established profiles and vice versa. I go back to H&M, which has invested heavily in its omnichannel approach. The brand no longer distinguishes between online sales and brick-and-mortar sales; it’s just sales. H&M is mutually reinforcing its brand through every contact point with customers, and it is reaping the rewards.

Retailers who actively find distinct ways to market their brick-and-mortar stores and encourage social participation are one step closer to closing the growing gap that exists between traditional shopping and e-commerce.

Nick Garzia is the director of retail leasing for the Hines Southeast portfolio, including Atlantic Station and two future developments. He can be reached at [email protected].