We hear about it all the time, especially in recent years: the retail apocalypse. Along with it, we hear about stores (and even malls) closing due to a noticeable decrease in foot traffic, followed by stories of the end of brick and mortar stores. Is there truth to all these claims? In some cases, particularly for a few legacy brands, yes. However, for the most part, that isn’t true at all.
The broader market of traditional retailers are very well aware of the rise of eCommerce and mobile commerce (mCommerce), and the way it is affecting the expectations and preferences of their customers. As such, they are adapting by offering their products on their websites, sometimes even with promotions that are exclusive to online purchases. One thing is for certain though, people still enjoy shopping at brick and mortar stores to a large capacity, oftentimes exclusively for pricier items. The physical channel will always be in demand. This gives retailers a unique opportunity to blur the line between shopping online and offline, to better meet the needs of their consumers, and achieve new measures of success across multiple touch points along the way.
Traditional free-standing stores were clearly the single shopping channel for consumers before the advent of eCommerce. The increase of demand required the opening of new locations of stores across different territories and regions. That was when consumers required endless and diverse options in shopping centers, without having to make too much of an effort to travel longer distances to browse through other items.
Once eCommerce came along, consumer preferences shifted rather quickly. They started loving the idea of shopping for merchandise without even leaving their couch. Over time, retailers took notice of the change as it began affecting their bottom line, and it left them with having to come up with a way to turn their liabilities back into assets, for the sake of keeping the business going.
These stores offer obvious advantages that online stores could never touch on. Shoppers can walk in, and develop a ‘relationship’ with the items they physically touch and inspect. They are able to purchase the items and instantly have them in their possession. The shopping experience itself is different, even without the assistance of a sales associate, because shoppers are surrounded in an environment of other shoppers with similar tastes. Stores offer unique vibes that the Internet generally doesn’t, at least not in the same way.
The line between online and offline shopping is blurring in todays retail environment. Consumers excitedly participate in both, sometimes even in equal rates. As such, it is up to the retailers to adapt to both the physical and digital demands of their customers. This can be accomplished by investing in technologies that bridge the gap between the two. This allows consumers to have a delightful experience no matter where they are in their journey, by offering exceptional service with greater efficiency across the board, which will lead to increased customer retention.
Artificial intelligence is one of the investments that is worth making earlier on, to benefit customers who shop online and/or their mobile devices. This technology provides consumers with personalized experiences, which helps them quickly find items that are needed for purchase without them having to browse through countless pages. Popular technologies such as visual search chatbots allow brands to provide their customers with digital personal shopping assistants. On eCommerce websites themselves, visual search technology can be used to help users find items they desire but are unable to describe through textual search. They will be presented with exact matches, or similar items at the very least, thereby eliminating the grief associated with the dreadful “out of stock” message.
When AI is coupled with in-store technology, additional offers can be given such as “buy online, pick up in store.” This gives customers the convenience of browsing and shopping online, and they still experience the delight of in-store shopping when they visit to retrieve their merchandise. One very recent and still-experimental concept is that of physical showrooms in which customers can walk into a store and inspect all the goods offered. Anything they wish to purchase after inspection will be purchased online and delivered to their homes. The benefit of that is shoppers still get to try before they buy, with the added benefit of not carrying around shopping bags upon leaving the store.
In conclusion, as said by Forbes, “Retailers should remember that today’s changing landscape doesn’t call for the elimination or favoritism of one channel over another. Rather, it’s all about investing in technology that highlights the strengths of each and enables them to work together to the benefit of the bottom line.”