For more information on how retailers are using mixed commerce solutions, check out our Mixed Commerce Glossary, which defines the terminology being used by businesses to describe the changes currently sweeping retailFor a rundown of the biggest developments in Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality from the past 12 months, check out our 2016 roundup, Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality – The Year In Review. And for a look ahead, check out the 5 top Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality technology trends for 2017.

Face it: The shopping experience isn’t what it used to be

Have you noticed that shopping has become too transactional over the years? It used to be that hitting the stores was an experience, with window displays and floor shows designed to attract and thrill customers. Today’s stores are more utilitarian, laid out strategically to optimize customer purchases, while the number of employees and check-out lanes are cut to increase profit margins. The in-store experience has become stale, as evidenced by the fact that it’s no longer wowing consumers. Instead, formerly loyal patrons are demanding more from a trip to brick and mortar retailers.

Blame the Internet, which has opened up a new world of convenience-driven shopping, in the process changing consumer buying habits. Today’s shopper is willing to delay the instant gratification of having a product in their hands if buying online provides a better price or freedom from know-nothing staffers engaged in high-pressure sales. One exception: the annual “oh no, Christmas is in two days” shopping spree, but retailers can’t survive on a short burst of year-end foot traffic alone.

So how do traditional retailers compete? By giving consumers a unique experience they can’t get online, of course. The showroom of the future will need to be a destination, a place worthy of visiting beyond just commerce, even if you’re just hanging with your friends or out on a date. In short: Brick and mortar retailers need to make shopping fun again. They need to adapt. And they need to do it fast.

Mixed commerce: The future of retail is now

Mixed commerce solutions help retailers meet elevated customer expectations, by allowing businesses to escape the limitations of a traditional brick and mortar location and instead build a unique, personalized and exciting shopping experience. Using augmented and virtual reality tools consumers can interact with an endless aisle of virtual products, and visualize them in their home before buying — which undercuts sales resistance, and leads to repeat customers.

On the flip-side, mixed commerce implementation allows retailers to become more agile. They can open retail stores with smaller footprints, or place large kiosks in a high-traffic area like malls and airports for a low-cost, high-margin retail solution. As traditional stores become more convenient and accessible they better meet consumer needs, which drives up sales.

Retailers see the shift happening, and are beginning to create experiences that invite customers to return again and again. Here are two examples of innovative brick and mortar shops that are thinking differently about how to drive foot traffic into the store.

1. Pirch: Take an in-store shower before you buy

Pirch is a high-end kitchen, bath and outdoor retailer that prides itself on offering a unique and “elevated” shopping experience. Walking into a Pirch showroom is like nothing you’ve experienced at the local mall. Shoppers are greeted with free gourmet snacks and coffee as they enter. Chefs are on hand cooking on the sales floor, expertly showing off the kitchen appliances Pirch is selling. Cooking classes are also available, and you are invited to try out a stove or oven by fully preparing a real meal before you decide to buy. The showroom is even pet friendly, with Pirch inviting shoppers to bring their pooch with them.

In addition to being innovative and exciting, a trip to Pirch is also educational. Not only do shoppers learn about the products being used by the chefs, they are also being taught how to make healthy and delicious meals. It’s an experience that so far removed from typical appliance shopping that people will have to tell their friends about it — both on social media and in real life.

Another unique aspect to the Pirch experience is that every product on display actually works — toilets flush, lights turn on, refrigerators are cold. You can even take a shower in the store. That’s right, Pirch allows customers to reserve their private “sanctuary” room that includes a dozen shower heads, a steam room and sauna. It all adds up to a truly unique “try before you buy” retail experience.

This focus on experience is working. Pirch stores are posting sales of over $2,500 per square foot, a total far surpassing most retailers, and on par with heavyweights Apple and Tiffany & Co.

2. STORY: A brand new store every 4-8 weeks

STORY is flipping the script on the traditional retail concept — and the changes are working beautifully. With only one 2,000-square-foot location in NYC, STORY has completely reimagined the solution to the age old question, “How do we turn a one-time buyer into a repeat customer?” The retailer’s answer isn’t exactly simple: completely reinvent the store, from the design to the merchandise, every four to eight weeks.

Each update showcases a new theme, trend or issue, and all the decor and merchandise is replaced in order to tell that story. Or as STORY puts it, the storefront is “a retail concept that takes the point of view of a magazine, changes like a gallery and sells things like a store.” This strategy incentivizes customers to return to the same location every few months in search of a completely new experience.

And it works! Story has turned itself into a destination retailer, one that customers flock to in order to see what new items are on display. STORY also hosts live events where customers can learn about what they’re buying. The goal is to produce an experience that brings shoppers back again and again. So far, this is one STORY that has had a happy ending.

For more information on how retailers are using mixed commerce solutions, check out our Mixed Commerce Glossary, which defines the terminology being used to businesses to describe the changes currently sweeping retail.

Tim Sandlund is a Senior Project Manager at Marxent.