One of the biggest retail trends driving growth in 2019 and beyond is in-store experiences like classes and training sessions. By revamping your omnichannel strategy, you can provide a more seamless experience between online and in-store interactions. This is especially important for savvy millennials and Gen Z consumers who want the convenience and personalization of digital transactions combined with deeper in-store experiences.

We already know that buy online, pick-up in store (BOPIS) is one of the fastest growing offerings among retail chains. Research shows that 86 percent of retailers expect BOPIS to become the default delivery approach, and 93 percent of those who haven’t already rolled out the option expect to introduce it within the next few years. Mixing the instant gratification of online purchasing with more immediate pick-up opportunities makes it attractive for consumers. Retailers benefit from a decrease in shipping costs as well as the opportunity to get consumers back in the store for upsells and other promotional activities.

A natural extension of BOPIS is the concept of “buy online, learn in-store” (BOLIS). Data suggests BOLIS is poised to be the next big retail trend.

What is BOLIS?

Buy online, learn in-store is a natural fit in today’s retail evolution. Brands need more creative ways to showcase products and services, and consumers, especially Millennials and Gen Z, have shown more interest in lifelong learning that takes place outside of traditional classrooms. 2016 research found that “Nearly one-third (32 percent) of consumers are interested in going to classes or lessons at stores.”

Best Buy, a leader in home electronics, transformed the industry years ago with its Geek Squad that made house calls, and today is one of the brands that is helping customers become more informed users through product training after they make online purchases that range from laptops to camera equipment. An example of Best Buy’s approach is enabling a customer that purchases a laptop online (typically a low-margin item in a competitive category) to schedule a consultation with the Geek Squad at pick-up time. By investing in “retail as service” and deepening customer relationships with customers, Best Buy has increased revenues and margins, and has strengthened its leadership position in the industry.

Sports and lifestyle retailers are also leading the way with in-store classes that showcase new equipment, like Peloton bikes, and by offering classes that best represent the brand. Lululemon, the athletic clothing retailer is investing further in in-store experiences and classes. Earlier this year it announced aggressive growth plans that include “creating dynamic experiential moments” for customers, including large showcase stores with yoga studios, meditation spaces, and even food.

Beauty brands like Sephora are turning the cosmetic counter into a girls’ night out destination. The retailer hosts a bevy of classes that range from pampering facial best practices to how-to’s that feature step-by-step instruction. Sephora isn’t alone in their sector, and for good reason. Research indicates that Americans spend $200k to $300k in a lifetime on facial and skincare products, and that number is expected to grow.

Benefits of In-Store Learning

BOLIS, much like BOPIS, starts with the premise that consumers are itching for instant gratification and are very likely to make online purchases. But all data (both sales and consumer sentiment) reveal how important personal experiences play in driving retail growth. Experiences also generate word of mouth recommendations and generate reviews for business locations in turn increasing local search results.

Businesses can leverage their retail locations for in-store demos and comprehensive classes to foster brand loyalty. They’ll also benefit from an increase in foot traffic which boosts in-store transactions, including upsells and impulse purchases, too.

William Sonoma made a name for itself as a destination for gourmands. Most small and medium-sized kitchen appliances (Instant Pot, bread makers and accessories like giant paella pans) are purchased online. But the company excels at offering cooking classes at their brick-and-mortar store that teach consumers how to use the items they bought online. In doing so, William Sonoma can use their retail space as a showcase and upsell items that complement online purchases such as food ingredients or small accessories.

Customers get a built-in community while learning the finer details of everything from personal electronics to cooking gear. And brands that hold recurring classes, like fitness instruction or multi-class hobby instruction (think photography or crafts) have the benefit of helping consumers grow with their hobbies, becoming a trusted lifestyle partner.

How to succeed with BOLIS

As part of a comprehensive omnichannel strategy, make it easy for customers to find what they want online, and then offers an easy way for them to act in the moment of interest to book appointments or classes with a retailer.

Provide a seamless experience. Don’t make customers re-enter data online and in-store. Ensure that your systems capture data once and then intelligently distributes it to the right employee at the right time. Armed with knowledge and a little bit of background, in-store employees can welcome customers the moment they walk in the door and provide a more personal experience.

Enable intelligent appointment scheduling. Invite customers to register for events and classes from links on your website, email campaigns, social media accounts, or even in-person and manage the event on site with an easy-to-use check in process controlled by employees.

Follow-up with meaningful messaging. After classes and training sessions send personalized, automated notifications based on your customers’ specific actions. If possible, ask for reviews and make it easy for customers to share their experiences on social media.

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