Editor's note: Based in New York, Fiona Blades is president and chief experience officer at MESH Experience, a London research firm. 

In our work helping clients understand consumers’ experiences, we’ve witnessed the startling speed with which digital has transformed retail. We spotted the beginning of a trend back in 2011 and watched over the next two years as the percentage of people reporting an in-store experience of any kind for our client halved! 

Further digging revealed that people were going online, mainly to retailer Web sites. Moreover, through our research we saw this early in the path to purchase, when they were researching what brand to buy, and towards the end of the journey, when they were searching where to buy their chosen brand at the best price. This insight changed the way our clients worked with their retail partners.

To see what people value most about in-store shopping, we analyzed thousands of retail experiences in our firm’s database. Three aspects stood out:

Sampling. Consumption touchpoints are normally the most engaging and persuasive experiences that people have with brands. So, getting to try the product in a retail environment is very powerful.

Speaking to assistants. A great staff interaction transforms a retail experience.

Touching and feeling the product. Reading about the car online isn’t the same as sitting inside the car, smelling the leather and holding the steering wheel.

Observations like the above give us clues to how bricks-and-mortar retail can be repurposed: It needs to transform from transactional to experiential.

The implication of this shift is profound. The purpose of bricks-and-mortar retail is no longer to generate sales but to build brands. It needs to be on the media plan alongside TV and other brand-building channels.

Many companies have taken this to heart and we are now seeing brands creating amazing touchpoi...