We’ve all seen it in the news – but in spite of the unwavering headlines, announcing the timely death of brick-and-mortar retail, we seem to have hit a wall. New stories are emerging in the industry, which suggest that brick-and-mortar still holds importance in the marketplace.

The truth is, that physical stores still have sizeable, significant and strategic business benefits for retailers and brands alike. From the American retailer LL Bean to Google, organisations are re-building their bridges to the abundant offline world. But, why?

“The Experience Economy” – that’s why.

In a similar way to how, the roles and definitions of content and ownership, has become ubiquitous over the last few years; so has our consideration of what accounts as part of the human experience. The proliferation of technology that has embedded itself into our every-day lives, undoubtedly offers us a wealth of information and convenience, readily available at our fingertips, but it has also awoken an unshakable desire in consumers, to feel connected at an utterly human level. Research has suggested that 72% of millennials seek to increase their spending on “experiences”. This is the Experience Economy. And, what’s even more compelling? That the same research unveiled that 69% say that their experiences make them feel more connected to their communities, other people, and the world…and your brand.

As a consumer-centric industry, the ability to tap into this thirst to offer something truly experiential both online and offline, is a bit like owning the legendary Golden Fleece. But, be wary, consumers are now conditioned to expect these new standards of convenience and transcendence. To leverage these themes offline, in an experiential way is tricky. That’s where CGC comes in!

The online benefits of CGC are well published in industry press, blogs and such like; from increased SEO and key-word targetting to, increased engagement and conversion. CGCs offline benefits, on the other hand, has not had quite as much attention though. So let’s look at a couple examples of how to integrate CGC into brick-and-mortar retail.

#1 – The first way is pretty simple: leverage CGC in your existing comms plan. This content can be in the form of photos, reviews, tweets, comments – anything, really. Whether you decide to integrate these into on-shelf promotions, billboards or TV advertising; the inclusion of CGC in mass communications, helps create a brand image that is actively listening and proactive – it can also surprise and delight the growing consumer-sceptics out there.

Lidl in the UK, for example, has been using this technique as part of their multi-million pound Lidl Surprises campaign. By harnessing local social content and buying print media in and around areas of the content’s origin, they have managed to boost trustworthiness and footfall. More importantly, they’ve cut through the public’s preconceptions of how supermarkets interact with consumers, to create a truly differentiated offering. Clever media buying and the right platform is what counts here!

#2 – Admittedly, my second how-to is more advanced and requires a little more investment, but if you’re a brand or retailer who has great social engagement – or you’re looking to achieve great engagement, this level of interaction will cannon-ball your brand! This time, we’re talking about the curation of real-time social content, displayed digitally in-store to augment and lengthen the customer experience. That sounds like a mouthful, doesn’t it? But, it’s really not complicated, let’s break it down.

Let’s say that you’re a destination apparel brand focussed on a youth market; this will probably mean that two of your biggest business pressures are to increase “size of basket” and the conversion from “footfall to purchase”. How do you do it? You already heavily invest in your brand and store experience, so what’s next? Appoint CGC to lengthen the customer experience, increase brand engagement and encourage peer-to-peer purchasing. One way to do this would be to create brick-and-mortar store designs with digital displays to capture this content. Sounds good, but what would this actually look like for the customer?

Well, as a young customer who has just popped into my nearest store and bought a couple of items, I can Instagram, tweet or post a photo of my items with a hashtag, or social handle. This would then be picked up by the brand or retailer, approved and, displayed in real-time, shown in store on-screen. For me, the customer, it shows my brand values me and I get to become part of the story. For other customers (or customers-to-be) walking around the store it inspires their own shopping behaviours and piques their interest to join in the story too. What does that mean for the retailer and brand? A higher conversion rate and a larger basket-size, not to mention you’ll also increase your intangible social assets, as a result. In marketing, that’s a win-win!

Those examples are only the beginning. Discovering new ways to build consumer conversations into your marketing strategy is key to brand-building in this new marketplace, we live in. The pursuit of bringing CGC offline, is not only necessary for individual organisational success, but for the overall progression and development of the retail category, as a whole. As millennials (and consumers in general) shift from seeing offline and online as separate entities, we must work tirelessly to amalgamate the experience and deliver something seamless and of value. New technologies may be the toolkit, but a new frame of mind will seal the deal.