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Adidas’ new Halo store in downtown Toronto levels up the customer experience.Adidas Canada

Sportswear fans on the hunt for the latest kicks can get a sneak peak into the future of retail.

Adidas’ new Halo store, launched last November at CF Toronto Eaton Centre, brings customers an immersive experience complete with digital displays, “smart” fitting rooms, and brand activation zones.

Self-serve kiosks throughout allow customers to instantly order items in different colours and sizes for pickup or delivery. Shoppers can also pick a garment and personalize it on the spot with artwork, embroidery, or other options customized to the Toronto market. The 13,000-sq.-ft. space is also used to host regular influencer events and product launches, and has an interactive gaming area to keep children engaged while their parents browse.

The sportwear giant’s flagship store (the first Halo in Canada) is part of a growing breed of experiential retail destinations popping up to offer premium products and a space to cultivate experiences that will keep customers coming back.

“What we’re seeing from consumer behaviour is they want their retail store to be more than just a place to buy product – it’s a place to find something unique, whether that’s unique product or unique events,” says Lesley Hawkins, Adidas’ vice-president of retail in Canada.

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Offering unique products and unique in-store experiences are key for retailers like Adidas.Adidas Canada

The fact that most people carry a smartphone and can buy products anywhere at any time makes it all the more important for retailers like Adidas to provide environments that will engage and entertain, says Hawkins. “We bring the community to them so they feel like there is a connection to the retailer – not just physically but socially.”

Canadian outdoor apparel and equipment retailer Arc’teryx is another company making community a core part of its business strategy, hosting in-store experiences that range from sessions on how to extend the life of gear, to run clubs, to wax and wine nights.

“The store creates space for connection, meeting our community where they are, and offering localized and relevant experiences, education and services,” says Canadian vice-president Megan Cheesbrough. It’s a concept that’s proving fruitful for the retailer, with a 40-per-cent increase in its Canadian store footprint in 2022 and 15 new locations slated to open across North America this year.

The good news for brick-and-mortar retailers all around is that a prolonged absence of foot traffic during the pandemic has shoppers itching to come back to in-person shopping. According to the 2022 Canadian Retail Report, produced by Adyen and sponsored by KPMG, 67 per cent of Canadians actually prefer to shop in physical stores. (That’s more than the global average of 59 per cent.) But the caveat, notes the report, is they have to be exciting places to visit that use technology to improve and streamline the shopping experience.

Just as the last few years have focused on e-commerce, the next few will be about in-store digitization and customer experience, says Marty Weintraub, partner and national retail leader at Deloitte. “The integration of all this investment that went online now needs to come to the physical store,” he says. This will need to include equipping staff with better technology and tools to improve the customer experience. “That’s everything from handheld phones to access inventory and customer profiles, to faster checkout.”

Weintraub says successful retailers will also need to ensure a seamless transition from their online to physical stores. “A lot of journeys that end up with a purchase at the store are initiated online before a customer leaves their house, so that connection is really important,” he says. “What we know is a combination of a good online and in-store experience means higher ticket [items], higher basket, and higher satisfaction.”

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Customers can create personalized apparel at the new Halo store.Adidas Canada

Lee Valley Tools, which specializes in high-end woodworking and gardening tools and supplies, is one retailer successfully straddling the online and in-store shopping experience. Along with a robust website of highly curated products for purchase online, the 45-year-old, Ottawa-based company ranked No. 3 for “The Best In-Store Experiences In Ontario” in Leger’s Wow Study in 2022 (up from No. 5 in 2021).

President and chief operating officer Jason Tasse says even though shoppers are scoping products online, the store experience is a critical part of building relationships. “One of my favourite expressions to our managers is ‘trust over transaction’ because even if a customer leaves with a nugget of knowledge and amplified trust in Lee Valley products and we didn’t sell them anything that day, the rest will take care of itself.”

The majority of Lee Valley’s 500 retail staff have experience and/or technical knowledge in gardening or woodworking and the retailer provides ongoing training and development programs. “We want our customers – and future customers – to appreciate the level of engagement in our stores and that starts with our people,” says Tasse.

That’s not to say digitization isn’t also a key part of the business strategy, Tasse adds. In a move to stay relevant and attract a younger demographic, the retailer launched an in-store mobile shopping tool in 2020. Customers now simply scan a barcode in any of Lee Valley’s 18 retail stores to access the company’s website and a full description of each product as they shop. If they started choosing items online, they’ll also be able to pick up where they left off in-store.

When first piloting the mobile tool, Tasse says it was fascinating to see even older customers were coming into stores with pictures of products from the website. “So there was already a customer sentiment around how they wanted to engage,” he says.

Tasse doesn’t envision a time where in-store shopping won’t be relevant, at least in the foreseeable future. “I feel the roles may change and technology will keep changing, but your value proposition and your interaction with the customers will be based on how they prefer it – and for many, that’s still in-store.”

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