Social media, online stores, and pop-up shops have changed the retail game in the past decade.
Foot traffic to brick-and-mortar stores is still important, but it’s no longer the lone driving factor to a store’s success like it was in the pre-digital era.
At a time of sky-high commercial real estate prices in Toronto, this is definitely not a bad thing.
When Sara Puppi opened her North Toronto event wear boutique Poor Little Rich Girl a decade ago, foot traffic was top of mind. “Street traffic is crucial to generating new clientele, especially neighbourhood customers,” said Puppi. “Being on a heavily trafficked street like Yonge Street, we are conveniently located on route to downtown and store visibility is high for commuters, which as a result, draws people in the store.”
Fashion-loving females will travel to Poor Little Rich Girl from across town or from the suburbs knowing they’ll likely spend at least an hour or two in the dress-filled boutique – after they’ve done their research, that is.
“Dress store options in Toronto – especially for long gowns – are sparse now, so it’s important for us to offer a wide variety of amazing dresses all year long,” said Puppi. “Our online store was launched three years ago, and is an important research tool for women to check out what’s in store before they make the effort to come in. Often, they’ll reference styles they’ve seen either online or on social media and ask for specific items to try on.”
The rise of social media – in particular, the arrival of Instagram – has decreased the importance of a strategic and highly visible location to a degree.
An engaging, well-executed Instagram account and growing following could be all a retailer needs to attract a constant stream of customers into physical stores and to drive up online sales. Online retail and social media has expanded Poor Little Rich Girl’s reach to beyond the city, and the store is now receiving orders from across Canada and even internationally. But, as Puppi points out, the online world has also made the industry more competitive.
“Maintaining a social media presence is crucial,” said Puppi, who often models the clothing herself on Instagram. “Woman don’t simply want to see models wearing clothing; they want to see real life, relatable woman wearing outfits that are conducive to their life styles.”
Toronto-based retail store GotStyle was an early adopter of social media and effectively utilizes platforms like YouTube to offer seasoned style insight.
An example of a Toronto retail brand that has withstood the test of time, GotStyle has remained relevant since it opened its doors in 2005. GotStyle’s continuous social media presence, strategic public relations initiatives, and well-attended parties and fashion shows have increased its visibility and presence on Toronto’s fashion scene, making both its original Bathurst Street location and its newer Distillery District spot destination shops for style-seekers.
While the significance of the bricks and mortar store itself may be diminishing as many struggle to stay afloat in an era of online shopping and free returns, there is still a want for a personalized experience offered in-store.
At GotStyle, things like lounge seating areas, flat screen TVs, a DJ booth, a barbershop, and a men’s spa complete the in-store customer experience. At Poor Little Rich Girl, candy, chic seating vignettes, and a sales team that’s trained to offer the advice of a trusted friend are a few of the in-store perks.
Clearly, there are benefits to both the online and offline retail worlds.
Britt Barkwell, owner of online destination Trouvaille, recently took her business offline with a holiday pop-up. Located in a busy corridor in Commerce Court, it attracted a steady stream of professionals who work in the area and offered a new way to interact with clients and introduce the brand to people in a tangible fashion.
“It was a great opportunity to introduce Trouvaille offline and show people in person how we bring together curated assortments of interior, fashion, and lifestyle pieces through Trouvaille’s distinct lens,” said Barkwell. “Being in such close proximity to where our readers and followers work meant it was easy for them to find time to visit the shop. I think there’s a great opportunity to bring exclusive brands to Toronto’s downtown core in the financial district because there are so few options currently.
The curious passersby were attracted to the thoughtful aesthetic of the pop-up.
“A holiday shop was perfect because it allowed us to help our customers during one of the busiest times of the year and to simplify their holiday shopping,” said Barkwell. “It was also a great way for us to continue working with the local Canadian brands and vendors we love to feature on the site.” She says some shoppers were following the brand on social media or had read about it in recent press coverage and decided to check out the physical location. Barkwell has seen a spike in traffic and email subscriptions since executing the holiday pop-up and taking business back online.
At a time when online browsing has replaced window-shopping, retailers need to ensure their physical stores compete with or complement the allure of shopping online.
After all, major retailers like Sears and Toys R Us have pointed to the decline in mall foot traffic as reasons for their shutdowns. Like at GotStyle, stores should strive to become experience hubs, infusing technology (anything from augmented reality to artificial intelligence) and interactive elements. At very least, investing in a solid social media manager is key; online channels drive offline traffic more than ever.
Featured image: Instagram/ @therealestatehouse
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