Brick-and-mortar retail will increasingly serve as a “third space” that’s only partly about transactions.

As we discuss in our latest trend report, “Rebooting Retail,” brick-and-mortar retail will increasingly serve as a “third space” that’s only partly about transactions. The hard sell is becoming less important than providing something more fun, helpful, satisfying or distinctive than e-commerce can offer. One of our 10 Trends for 2011, this shift is accelerating, with a wide spectrum of retailers looking to Apple and other early innovators as they strive to make an in-person visit worth the shopper’s while.

In the U.K., for instance, Tesco has revamped a Tesco Extra store in Watford, adding a community room that locals can reserve without charge for yoga classes, birthday parties, etc. Some inventory has been moved online to create space for a restaurant, coffee shop and bakery; the new health and beauty department will include a nail bar. Similarly, a Duane Reade drugstore on Wall Street in Manhattan offers blowouts and manicures. Duane Reade parent Walgreens has been opening flagship stores around the U.S. that feature expansive cosmetics sections staffed with “beauty advisers” as well as coffee bars.

In the electronics sector, Radio Shack is starting to remodel U.S. stores with the aim of becoming “the neighborhood technology playground,” according to its chief executive; a new campaign uses the tagline “Let’s play.” Stores will include a speaker wall where customers can test sound on their Bluetooth-enabled devices. An AT&T flagship in Chicago that opened last year is crammed with “digital eye candy,” as Adweek reports. Customers can play games on an 18-foot video wall featuring motion-sensing software or sit in lounge-like areas to chat with sales associates. AT&T recently said it plans to add features of the flagship to stores around the U.S. In office supplies, Staples is testing smaller stores that feature meeting space and work stations, as well as a charging station, copy and fax machines, printers and Starbucks coffee.

The most appealing retail spaces will creatively rethink what a store is for and exploit what’s lacking online: a truly three-dimensional, tangible experience, where consumers interact with products and other people. For more on Retail As the Third Space and other key retail trends, click here to download our full report or here to browse it on SlideShare.

Image credit: AT&T