Billy Hulkower
Billy Hulkower is a Senior Analyst, Technology and Media, at Mintel, specializing in consumer electronics, digital entertainment, pay TV, online video and mobile.

In an era marked by the evaporation of in-person support, a turning point appears to be on the horizon, with brands operating showcase stores seeing an increase in brand equity via expert advice and attractive displays.

Even the most tech-savvy consumers are looking for support in-person to achieve their personal goals. As presented in Mintel’s Living Online – US, 2014 report, 39% of online adults age 25-34 want in-person help for improving their appearance and 34% of 25-34s want in-person support to get their shopping done. Diet, exercise, mental acuity, help parenting and managing finances represent other arenas in which young, online consumers want help with their lives, in-person.

Trends in consumer behavior suggest that consumers are embracing omni-channel shopping behavior.  As presented in Mintel’s Online Shopping – US, 2014 report report, 34% compare prices online when at physical stores, and 22% conduct research online while shopping at a store in person.

Even with all of this data, I’m still surprised that online shopping titan Amazon is opening its first brick-and-mortar location, in midtown Manhattan, between Macy’s flagship store and the Empire State Building. Multiple other formerly pure play online retailers have already opened physical locations, including Birchbox, and Piperlime.

34% of 25-34s want in-person support to get their shopping done

Furthermore, Under Armor, Urban Decay, Sweaty Betty, and Samsung are among the manufacturers that have opened dedicated retail sites. Microsoft now operates more than 60 standalone stores in the US, in addition to its store-in-stores at Best Buy – even though the company’s primary offering is intangible.

With omni-channel operations being a central trend for retail, brands formerly identified primarily as digital-only or physical-only sellers are seeing the need to focus on both arenas. The runaway success of Apple retail stores has also made apparent the value of flagship stores, where manufacturer brands can give consumers the opportunity to play with products and get advice about them. For many brands, these types of sites can be as much a form of marketing as a sales channel, with consumers able to get expert advice from knowledgeable salespeople.

The internet has brought enormous cost-cutting opportunities to both households and retailers. But in the continued shift from in-person support to call centers, from call centers to text chats, and from text chats to customer discussion groups, vast gaps have appeared in the assistance that could once be achieved face-to-face at physical locations. The transition to omni-channel distribution can be far more than an opportunity for shoppers to see products in-person; it holds the potential for experts to help loyal customers improve their lives and achieve their goals with the help of the brand’s products.

Billy Hulkower heads the Tech and Media subscription for Mintel’s syndicated reports team, including topics such as consumer electronics, digital entertainment, social networking, digital marketing, pay TV services and online video, with a particular emphasis on cellular services, and mobile hardware and software.