Retailers are adding a dash of technology to attract shoppers, and now they’re adding a dose of fitness. Treadmills sit in the shoe department alongside virtual legos, yoga gear and hands-free massage devices. “It’s a huge trend right now,” says Donna Fay, a senior analyst at the NPD Group, a research firm. “As shoppers become more health conscious, retailers have responded by adding more categories to help shoppers have a healthier experience.”

If you’ve been to a local mall lately, you may have noticed some new activity in the stores. The traditional department store, for the most part, has been out of the fitness game. After all, it’s tough to jump on an elliptical or crossfit equipment when you’re in a hurry to get to the shoe department. What hasn’t changed is the fact that retailers are still looking for new ways to increase foot traffic, separate consumers from their wallets, and keep customers engaged in stores.

When it comes to retail, the latest trends in the industry arent always obvious, even when theyre right in front of you.

Retailers like Lego Group and Dick’s Sporting Goods Inc. are developing store designs that offer customers more reasons to come than just to make a purchase.

Experiential retail has long been a tactic used by brick-and-mortar shops to fight against e-commerce. They’ve held events, established eateries on the premises, and created attractive exhibits to attract social media users. Toys “R” Us Inc. first built a flagship shop in Manhattan’s Times Square in 2001, complete with a 65-foot-tall Ferris wheel.

But, as e-commerce has grown, it hasn’t always been enough; Toys “R” Us shuttered its Times Square shop in 2016, and filed for bankruptcy protection less than two years later. WHP Global Inc., the brand’s new owners, plans to launch additional shops later this year.

After lockdowns and social distance during the Covid-19 epidemic reduced visits and expedited the move to online buying, businesses are now attempting to entice customers back into shops.

“The threshold for consumers investing their time, money, or whatever it takes to go someplace continues becoming higher and higher,” said Steve Dennis, president of retail consulting company SageBerry Consulting.

According to eMarketer, physical retail sales will increase by 6% in dollar terms this year after falling by 2.8 percent in 2020, but will lose market share to e-commerce once again.

According to eMarketer, global e-commerce sales will account for 20% of all retail sales this year, up from 18% in 2020 and 14% in 2019.

Retailers believe that their newest experiences will provide customers with more than just the kind of unique moments that have previously been available.

In a 20-minute experience dubbed the Brick Lab, Lego’s New York flagship shop, which debuted in June, is relying on technology advancements to combine conventional toys with augmented reality. It allows visitors to build real Lego creations out of common toy parts and then see them come to life in a virtual environment.


In the New York Lego shop, the Brick Lab is a 20-minute augmented reality experience.

courtesy of Getty Images

“In recent years, we’ve seen a more linked play environment where kids are playing both in the digital and real worlds,” said Simone Sweeney, Lego’s vice president of global retail development.

The Brick Lab is presently alternating between two themes, one situated in New York and the other in outer space. Themes will be modified to fit local attractions when the technique spreads to additional shops, according to Ms. Sweeney.

With the first two sites of a new shop concept dubbed Dick’s House of Sport, Dick’s Sporting Goods adopted a more analog approach this year. The stores in Knoxville, Tenn., and Rochester, N.Y., include rock-climbing walls for visitors to scale, nearby turf fields for the local towns to enjoy, and fitting rooms with treadmills for clients to try on products like sports bras in a private setting.

Golf putting greens, jogging tracks, and health and wellness facilities with kombucha on the menu are among the other attractions.

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Dick’s started working on House of Sport two years ago, when it decided to make its shops more than just somewhere to purchase goods and walk out, according to the business. Customers’ experiences at these two shops may be reproduced in other Dick’s Sporting Goods stores, according to Toni Roeller, senior vice president of in-store environment.

And Mars Inc. this year has opened two new M&M’s stores, including a location in the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minn., that allows guests to ride an elevator to “Peanut Peak,” one of the highest points inside the mall. A video screen experience in the store, called M&M’s Sweet Moves, lets visitors take a photo or record a video of themselves while moving around and add M&M imagery and music.

Another “magic mirror” screen at both new shops allows customers to view themselves as one of the brand’s sweet characters, complete with emotions such as happiness and sorrow.

Retailers are starting to realize that customers prefer to spend their time in shops that make them feel unique, according to industry experts.

According to Agathe Guerrier, chief strategy officer of TBWA Worldwide Inc., this not only increases physical foot traffic but also increases customers’ affection for the companies.

Ms. Guerrier said, “A lot of companies are beginning to understand the brand-building potential of those physical experiences where you are really involved.”

Ann-Marie Alcántara can be reached at [email protected].

Copyright ©2021 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved. 87990cbe856818d5eddac44c7b1cdeb8

Sure, you can get a walking machine in the gym. But if you want to exercise your legs, now there’s another option: Try the virtual lego walking machine. It lets you traverse a virtual landscape, demolishing enemies and building up your character’s strength. The machines, which are being rolled out in some stores as a way to spur sales, are made by a company called Virtuix.. Read more about virtual fitting room companies and let us know what you think.

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