Anyone trying to assess the health of the retail industry is sure to be bombarded with doomsday predictions, hailing the shuttering of major brands, and America's strip malls becoming dilapidated ghost towns.

But the truth is brick and mortar retail isn't going away anytime soon, it's simply changing to meet new market demands. In some cases, online retailers are adding offline locations to help showcase their product offerings and build trust with consumers who otherwise might be skeptical or hesitant to make a purchase.

PwC's recent total retail report details steady growth in mobile commerce, but what most people fail to recognize is that in-store revenue experienced similar growth over the last 3 years. Their survey found that the number of people that shop in-store once a week has grown by 5% since 2015. The development of omnichannel shopping through the use of mobile has been a boon to retailers who leverage mobile to support in-store sales.

A number of innovative startups, tech companies, and retailers are taking new approaches to navigate shifting tides in retail. The following are some of the most compelling cases of innovation in the industry:

Traffic Analytics

Anyone who's ever created a website understands the importance of tracking how many people visit the site at any given time. While this kind of data has been readily accessible for online retail, brick and mortar locations have often missed out on accurate foot traffic data due to the cost of the technology. Now there are better and more affordable tracking technologies for stores.

Michael Brand, CEO of Dor, a foot traffic analytics provider, shares, "Foot traffic is a vital layer of information for a retailer to optimize how they staff their store, measure marketing effectiveness and calculate their in-store conversion rate, illuminating additional insights into sales trends that would have otherwise gone unnoticed." Increasing visibility on data is a critical component in the future of in-store retail. Brand went on to share that companies should add data to "existing reporting and business intelligence tools that help those retailers make sense of these massive banks of in-store data with a new layer of intel to their decision-making at the executive level."

Personal and Expert Staff

While online retail is incredibly convenient, it lacks the human expertise that shoppers tend to experience when they go to quality stores. Reports show that 78% of consumers said it's important for them to interact with employees that have a deep knowledge of a retailer's product offerings.

Investing in well trained employees isn't exclusive to offline retail either. 47% of respondents claimed that when making purchases online they use social networks, visual or otherwise, to help them make a decision. That's why it's important for retailers to invest in effective social media teams that can authentically represent the brand online to generate organic online and in-store traffic.

In Store Technology Upgrades

People still enjoy the in-store shopping experience, but without new tools brick and mortar will struggle to outpace digital alternatives. That's why many are turning to digital tools in store to help make the customer experience better than online shopping. Burberry famously deployed a number of these technologies in their flagship store and garnered a good deal of press.

One of their most notable innovations was the beauty box, where shoppers could select a makeup brand and color and see how it would look on their skin. Other in-store tech innovations include cameras that assess skincare needs, RFID systems to make products easier to find, and tablets that allow employees to look up customer profiles when they are assisting someone.  All of these tools help retailers offer a more complete in-store experience for their customers.

Tech Supported Loyalty Programs

Bond research found that 75% of consumers said loyalty programs were an important aspect of their relationship with a brand. With the emergence of online to offline (O2O) attribution technologies, these loyalty programs have become valuable tools for generating revenue while assessing marketing spend.

PwC recommends, "Apart from traditional rewards such as credit vouchers for a certain amount of money spent, retailers could offer unique rewards that customers would experience in person (e.g., invite to an exclusive meet-the-designer or meet-the-chef event)."

Companies that effectively leverage these approaches are likely to lead the industry, while pushing back on the common notion that brick and mortar retail is dead. Consumers will take note as well, and online retailers who fail to create enjoyable experiences may even lose some of their customers to their traditional competitors.

Published on: Sep 1, 2017