A couple of weeks ago it suddenly dawned on me that I needed to change the bulbs in my car’s headlights ahead of an evening trip. I would have bought them online and fitted them myself but I was unsure of the exact bulb type.

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Bright future for stores

That’s when I remembered the Halfords store nearby Stevenage and I immediately checked online if they had them available and if they could also fit them. I reserved the products and then rang the store to check on fitting times and was told that I should ‘ask for Jimmy’ on arrival as he would then check exactly what bulb was required and then fit them.

A quick trip to the store and a 15-minute fitting at £6.99 for each bulb was a lot cheaper and a much quicker experience than if I’d gone to a garage. During the fitting I took the opportunity to look across the product range and found that they fit all sorts of things. This promotion of fit in-store is great as you are effectively a captive audience positioned to look at their other goods.

It was while wandering around the store that I remembered I also desperately needed a fridge water filter – in order to avoid poisoning my children! – and after a quick search on my mobile I found just the item around the corner in the Stevenage branch of Curry’s PC World.

I’d normally buy these filters online – because of the lower price – but I’d forgotten to buy one the previous week and now I needed one quickly. To be able to reserve the product online, and then collect it from the store within one hour satisfied my need for immediacy.

In contrast, buying them online invariably involves the items sitting in the Post Office until the weekend when my wife and I are around to physically collect them. My experience with Curry’s PC World was quick and painless.

The service was great, with the store’s employees genuinely happy to help, in what was a nice showroom type outlet where I was able to touch and feel the goods. I looked over the Apple products and TVs so I’ve now got the Curry’s PC World brand in mind for when I come to buy such products. I got home with very positive thoughts about the retailer.

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Halfords giving reasons to shop in-store

These two personal experiences highlighted to me that retail is not just about price. In a world of price checking and easy transparent comparisons this is not a sufficient differentiator. The experience is what it is all about today and this is why retailers with physical stores like Halfords and Curry’s PC World are in a potentially powerful position.

We are definitely seeing them fight back against the online competition and in some cases they are winning. This is all about retailers moving towards being a consumer-resource rather than simply a purveyor of goods. It is no longer just about selling products.

The likes of Halfords source the goods of course, but they now clearly do much more through the provision of additional services like fitting. And unlike its pure online counterparts it can offer the additional levels of convenience because its stores are open seven days a week and now typically have late night openings through most of the week. As we see more elements introduced into stores such as Wi-Fi and social events then there will be more reasons for shoppers to visit physical shops.

The plan for retailers should be to attract people into stores not just when they are in purchase mode but also in research and consideration modes. In a multi-channel world these are all equally valuable states and so to achieve this triple-whammy would go some way to suggesting a bright future could be on the cards for physical shops.

Guy (online only)Sponsored column by Guy Chiswick, Managing Director, Webloyalty Northern Europe (@Webloyalty_Guy)