Why the Retail Customer Experience Matters More Than Ever

The Transformation from Store to Showroom

By Stephanie Van Ness


What do Warby Parker, which sells stylish eyewear, and high-end menswear brand Bonobos have in common?

They’re both on the front line of a major transformation in retailing: the shift from store to showroom.

Many analysts have forecast the demise of the retail store as we know it. For instance, in IBM's Retail 2025 report, Stephen Laughlin says, “the store will be more of a showroom and a fitting room.” And he’s not talking a generation from now, but by the middle of the next decade.

Forward-thinking sellers, including traditional retailers and online brands, understand that consumers’ expectations are evolving. Today’s consumers want not only convenience and value, but also a great customer experience.

Online-only retailers like Warby Parker and Bonobos have always been able to deliver value. Since they don’t maintain pricey retail space or carry vast inventory at multiple store locations they’re able to offer customers a wide product selection at a competitive price.

But, their digital-only approach has a major drawback — customers can’t touch the merchandise before they buy, making it difficult for shoppers to select just the right item. That tactile satisfaction is important to the overall customer experience.

The Rise of the Showroom

To improve customer experience, more online companies today are opening brick-and-mortar showrooms and pop-up stores — small emporiums where customers can try on that shirt or examine the drape of those pants — to bridge the gap.

But showrooms, which carry limited inventory, are also appealing to traditional retailers looking for interesting ways to trim costs while still engaging customers. The showroom approach lets sellers of all stripes shrink costs for rent (fewer locations, smaller spaces), fixtures, staff and inventory.

And showrooms deliver the tactile experience consumers demand. They want to be able to touch, interact with — and in the case of wearables, try on — merchandise. Warby Parker, for instance, has set up a network of showrooms across the country so consumers can try on its eyewear yet continues to operate predominantly online.

No Instant Gratification 

Today’s consumers want what they want when they want it. But with showrooms, you can’t take your selection home with you. That means no instant gratification. To compensate, retailers — both brick and click — are turning to technology to engage their customers and create memorable experiences.

For instance, customers at Rebecca Minkoff can browse the brand’s catalog of luxury handbags, accessories, footwear and apparel on a large touchscreen if they don’t feel like looking through the racks. The brand is also using magic mirror technology, which allows shoppers to take photos of the clothes they’re trying on and compare the items side by side.

And, at several Bloomingdale’s locations the fitting rooms are equipped with wall-mounted iPads connected to their inventory management system. Customers can tap the screen to request assistance from a sales associate, scan items to find out what colors and sizes are in stock, even get suggestions for accessories to complete the outfit they are trying on.

Embracing a More Digital Buying Experience

As retail moves away from the traditional store model, brands will increasingly rely on in-showroom technology like touchscreen kiosks and fitting room “assistants” to woo tech-savvy shoppers and deliver unforgettable customer experiences.

ViewPoint is among the tech innovators leading the way to a more engaging shopping experience. In an upcoming blog I’ll show you how retailers, from purveyors of butter-soft leather sofas to luxury SUVs, are using ViewPoint’s interactive experiences to raise the bar.

If your brand wants to use technology to heighten the in-person shopping experience, let’s talk. Reach us at info@viewpointtouch.com

Stephanie Van Ness

Assoc. Director of Marketing and Chief Storyteller at ICS, Boston UX and ViewPoint Interactive Solutions

An experienced copywriter with a Boston University J-school degree, Stephanie Van Ness writes about user experience (UX) design and innovations in technology, from self-driving vehicles to gesture-controlled medical devices. Her work has appeared in a number of industry publications, including Medical Design & Outsourcing, Mass Device, Connected World,Medical Device + Diagnostics, UX Collective and Prototypr.