Digital or analog?

Options for retail

Credits: Bershka

To what extent can, should and must technology be integrated into stationary retail?

The Bershka store in Milan shows the way: Technological and digital integration in physical retail – it’s possible. Click & Collect stations in the shop window, options for self-checkout (SCO), returns drop-off points prominently in the store and opportunities for influencers to produce content and thus act as multipliers. Will the square meter actually generate the sales that hard-nosed retail sales managers expect? Probably not. But that doesn’t matter. After all, brick-and-mortar retail is merging with online retail more and more – the role of stores has changed. They are no longer (solely) responsible for sales, but serve the need for convenience and destination.


Ordering online often seems the easiest thing to do. However, misdirected parcel deliveries, delays, incorrect sizes and return shipping can also make shopping time-consuming and costly. Easily accessible click & collect terminals and return stations directly in the store can make the process easier. Provided that they do not disrupt the customer flow in the store and fit in with the overall look. Customers are also made aware that in-store pain points are recognized and resolved – for example, long queues at the checkouts that can be avoided by self-checkout.

Bookable changing rooms, interactive mirrors that can present color variations and suggest combination pieces as well as the simple ordering of these additional items without having to leave the dressing room are further technical integrations that increase convenience in the store and thus become more attractive for many target groups. Because in the end, the desired result for the customer is just one thing: getting the perfect outfit with little effort. And for the brand and the retailer: to sell as much as possible and ensure a return visit for the next purchase. Technology in the store makes this possible – regardless of whether the actual purchase is made online or offline. This is why the use of technical interfaces to the brand’s online outlet is a must, especially for large chains.


When online and physical retail are seamlessly linked in the backend, sales per square meter are no longer the decisive factor. The store should be the place of experience, where the brand is experienced – transactions, on the other hand, can and should take place online, preferably with interfaces on-site. The store should offer a unique experience, a place that makes multiple visits worthwhile. But even more importantly, it should give shoppers a sense of community, the feeling of being part of a group of like-minded people. There can be many different incentives for this. Broadly speaking, however, they can be divided into three categories: Event, Instagrammable and Community focus. If the store is to become the central hub of the brand community, it makes sense to create a target group-specific program – from regular events to changing content campaigns and opportunities to connect with each other to memberships that offer special benefits – online and on site.

On the other hand, stores become attractive when they offer something extraordinary – either for direct sharing on social channels or through the opportunity to stage themselves for content. The target group acts as a multiplier and makes the location even more attractive for the respective peer group. Design, gamification and technology make it possible. The Bershka store in particular, with its prominent Click & Collect Tower, bold design and spacious changing rooms. The latter in particular offer plenty of space for self-dramatization – changing light and music moods, room for the closest circle of friends, enough space to pose. Changing clothes is not a chore here, but a celebration. An activity that is planned in advance and enjoyed. The store is no longer a transaction space, but creates emotions and experiences.

In Asia and the Middle East, malls that were thought to be dead are once again becoming destinations for the younger generation. Digital twins of the buildings allow Pokémon-experienced target groups to collect goodies and be directed to different stores through various incentives. Technology that inspires – across all target groups.

Does every store need it?

Not every store can, should and must exploit all the technical possibilities. Quite the opposite. To put it boldly: The smaller the store, the less technology is worthwhile. Boutiques in particular distinguish themselves through their curation service, by addressing a specific target group that seeks and rewards precisely this service. Click & collect and self-checkout are less desirable here than more curation and personal customer loyalty. Especially as there is usually less space available here than in the large high-street chains.

What applies to most, however, is that technology should be integrated to the extent that it meets and – ideally – exceeds the expectations and needs of customers. From a simple newsletter to inviting the community and drawing attention to the curation service to an interactive mirror – there are plenty of options. This decision is up to each brand.

Published in FashionUnited.

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