Steve Pham

The tide is finally turning for brick-and-mortars. This was my conviction when I heard the surprising news that Amazon had opened its first physical store in Seattle last winter. Even more telling is the recent rumor that the e-commerce goliath plans to expand its foray into the real world with more brick-and-mortars.

Amazon, it seems, has come to the realization that though online sales are more popular than ever, an overwhelming majority of shoppers still prefer to make their purchases in a real store. In fact, the practice of “showrooming” — where consumers go to a physical store to check out a product, then buy it from an online competitor instead — has been turned on its head. People now are researching products online, sometimes in obsessive detail (often called “fauxsumerism,” to describe the act of browsing online for hours without making a purchase), then driving to a store to buy the item.

The reasons for this about-face? Some abhor shipping fees, while others want instant gratification, but the vast majority just plain like seeing products in person before committing to a purchase.

But this doesn’t mean pool and spa retailers can heave a great sigh of relief, mop their brows and say, “Whew, that was close!” Instead, we should see this as an opportunity to strengthen our position in the retail landscape. The answer lies in enhancing the customer experience.

What does that mean? Well, for starters, recognize that today’s customers, due to all the “fauxsuming” they’re doing, now are more knowledgeable than ever. That doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t require the help of a professional. In fact, the opposite is true: To attract and keep these customers, a highly personalized shopping experience with an expert sales associate offering smart recommendations is key. Sometimes customers are just looking for validation of their online research before making the purchase, and being able to discuss the finer points of a certain product can go a long way in establishing your expertise and winning the customer’s loyalty.

Another big retail trend to consider is that of experiential marketing, which is the practice of creating an immersive retail environment where customers can try out a “lifestyle” rather than just seeing products on a shelf. In other words, consumers don’t just want a simple purchase transaction: They want a comprehensive retail “experience.”

Creating a memorable “experience” includes every moment of the customers’ purchase journey — from eye-catching front-of-the-house window designs and in-store refreshments to setting up retail vignettes or activities.

A good example is Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World, a retail chain offering outdoor recreational goods, such as camping, fishing, hunting, and boating equipment. Each store is designed with the goal to let customers have a taste of the great outdoors: The interior is chock full of wildlife dioramas, oversized aquariums, archery ranges, rock-climbing walls, historic photo galleries, marine centers where people can sit at the helm of various boat models, restaurants and coffee shops, and even themed bowling allies. The idea is to draw in families with these attractions and hope they’ll enjoy them enough to instill a love for the sport — a sport that, of course, requires outfitting, which Bass Pro Shop is more than happy to provide.