American humorist Mark Twain famously quipped that “reports of my death are greatly exaggerated” when his obituary mistakenly appeared in newspapers. And in a world where Amazon seems omni-present, and familiar high street names struggle, people have been very quick to write the obituary of the physical store.

And, to be fair, something is broken in the world of bricks-and-mortar retailing: our recent research found that a third of consumers prefer washing dishes to shopping. In countries such as Sweden, we found this sentiment was true for half of consumers. The problem is, people’s expectations have risen in line with their digital experiences.

Imagine a website where what you want to buy isn’t always available, delivery options are limited, and there’s scant knowledge of your purchase history. You’d never go back. But these are issues that consumers find with the physical store environment, and today they’re evaluating stores through an eCommerce lens. Consumers still like the store, but they expect it to perform at the levels of an eCommerce site and to be digitally powered. Consumers want virtual shopping assistants, smart trial rooms and virtual reality. This is the mass-market store of the future.

This future store is partly with us

It’s today’s one, but with clicks as well as bricks, and it’s on the radar of retail leaders. In our research, we found that 78% of senior executives said in-store digitization is a top priority. However, there are also several challenges in the way of this ambition:

  • Pace: 1 in 2 retail executives believe that digitization of physical stores is too slow, with executives blaming store-level employees for the glacial pace, and shop-floor staff pointing the finger right back at the executive team.
  • Relevance and reach: The bulk of the digital initiatives that they have undertaken either don’t rate highly in terms of consumer usefulness, or have not been extensively deployed across enough stores.

So, as well as stepping up the pace and reach of implementation, retailers need to work hard on relevance. This means, for example:

  • An integrated experience, not bolt-on digital initiatives that are disjointed or cumbersome. For example, that means no store associates armed with tablets who take your order on the tablet, and then go and re-enter it into the regular PoS.
  • A mobile experience, where sensors push notifications and smart mobile apps allow you to make a shopping list and then navigate you through the store to fulfil it.

These are just some of the changes and fresh thinking that are required. Over the next decade, stores will face more change than they have experienced in the past half century as they race to meet customer expectations. Stores are relevant in our technology-enabled age, but only if bricks-and-mortar retailers make a digital connection with their consumers.

For a deeper dive into the findings and analysis of our survey of 6,000 consumers and 500 retail executives, read our latest report “Making the Digital Connection: Why Physical Retail Stores Need a Reboot”.