There is no doubt retail is in an era of transformation. Driven by the acceleration and adoption of technology and the changing behaviours of shoppers, retail must adapt to thrive in the future. Today’s connected customer has greater expectations than ever before. With information at their fingertips, they are knowledgeable, in control and can choose to purchase anywhere at any time. Faced with a proliferation of options coupled with the ubiquitous use of mobile, we are seeing a trend towards more frequent, yet shorter interactions. This limited attention has set a challenge for retailers in evolving the way they think about engaging customers and driving loyalty to their brand. It was only relatively recently that doubts were raised around the future of bricks-and-mortar retail. Emerging ecommerce players became more of an active threat and many have questioned if that would spell the end for the physical store. Fast forward however and quite the opposite is true. The store is far from dead and is now seen to be a key battleground for engaging with today’s connected customer. Despite the proliferation of devices and the growth of the digitally native millennial generation, the vast majority of purchases do and are predicted to continue to occur in bricks-and-mortar retail. In fact, the results of the latest Deloitte Retailers’ Christmas Survey published in November 2016 revealed 71% intend to increase their store footprint in the next 12 months – the highest seen in the five years of the survey – and 42% expect new stores to be the most significant driver of growth in 2017. This is not to say ecommerce and digital aren’t important, quite the contrary. They are critical to today’s customer journey and in addition to showing strong growth as a sales channel, digital influences over 40% of all in-store visits. For inspiration, personalisation, research, price comparisons and more, digital is invaluable. However when we examine the entire customer experience, so too is the store. What we are seeing is a convergence between bricks-and-mortar operators and online. Instead of a head-to-head fight with digital channels seeking to replace physical stores, the channels are working together to provide the customer with an integrated offering. So whilst a key enabler, technology doesn’t replace the emotional connect and engagement we are able to deliver from a physical, human interaction. Leading retailers acknowledge customers now demand shopping experiences that are exciting, memorable, meaningful, educational and entertaining and enable total brand immersion. Gone are the days of the store being somewhere simply to purchase. The store of today and the future must be centred on experience. But in order to fully realise this potential, the role of the store must change. Bricks-and-mortar retail holds great opportunity. Physical environments allow us to tell stories, to create multi-sensorial and interactive experiences and foster a sense of community both in and around the store. The service experience and how staff engage with customers is becoming increasingly important as is the opportunity to ‘come out from behind the counter’ and offer customers the knowledge, expert advice or personal connection they cannot get online. However, not all stores need to be created equally. Smart retailers are taking their customer experience strategy one step further to develop a highly effective network that delivers for both the customer and the bottom line. By creating the right experience in the right store format and ensuring the role of mobile and ecommerce are included in this, retailers can deliver both a valid customer experience and operation efficiency. To succeed retailers must start to see themselves the way their customers do. Those retailers that fundamentally rethink their experience and how to deliver it by becoming customer-centric across physical, digital, brand and service will be those that thrive in the future. This blog is an excerpt from the 2016 Retailers’ Christmas Survey.