4 Ways Businesses Can Bridge Physical and Digital Retail

by Michael Klein

posted on 06-18-2020

Your very first retail experience is likely very different from your most recent one. Before the internet, you took quarters to the convenience store to buy some candy. Today, you click “buy” and wait for a package to arrive at your doorstep.

Retail has certainly changed a lot in recent decades, and it’s only continuing to evolve at hyperspeed. As stores close and consumers explore digital options because of shelter-in-place mandates, many brands are shifting online strategies into high gear to reach and engage with customers in different, more meaningful ways — and rightfully so.

The future of retail arrived quicker than anyone anticipated. And brands must now adapt to a world where digital storefronts replace physical shops. Here’s how retailers can ensure they are creating thoughtful experiences for their customers during this unprecedented time.

Let data determine budget allocation

Consumer behavior is shifting rapidly, and in many cases customers are leading companies down the path to digital. The question is, how can retail brands allocate their budgets effectively when there are so many options for where to spend online?

The good news is that the majority of shoppers are showing retailers their priorities through their digital interactions and transactions. And many brands have already taken note with their marketing efforts, promoting and prioritizing their digital channels instead (for example, Lowe’s enhanced focus on YouTube). Others, such as Nike, have pivoted sponsorships of live shows and sporting events to placements on social media.

Today’s online behavior clearly indicates where consumer attention lies, and retailers can benefit from letting this data inform their financial and creative focus.

Forge a new path

While some are in more challenging situations, many retailers are choosing to see 2020 as a renaissance. Consumers are embracing online shopping more than ever, giving retailers a chance to reimagine commerce and reevaluate the role of brick-and-mortar stores.

Physical shopping centers are on the decline — even before the current situation, one in four malls were expected to close by 2022 — but that doesn’t mean consumers aren’t interested in buying. Brands looking to bridge physical and digital experiences should embrace having smaller footprints. Think showrooms and small distribution centers.

Stores, like Tractor Supply Co., for example, have embraced the opportunity to introduce same-day delivery. And many retailers are expanding their digital offerings to include augmented reality — eyewear companies like Warby Parker are enabling customers to “try on” a pair of frames before purchasings, while home furnishing stores like Wayfair let customers see how a sofa will look in their living room.

Pairing robust online shops with the option to digitally test-drive products is a win-win — customers get personalized experiences with the selection and convenience of online shopping, while retailers get the flexibility and agility that comes with reducing inventory.

Offer something for everyone

Consumers are omnichannel — especially over the last few weeks — and brands need to be as well. We’re seeing that people are willing to try new things online, and are adopting new digital behaviors that will likely continue after the COVID-19 pandemic dissipates.

In fact, recent research from McKinsey shows that some some consumers are turning to websites they never visited previously for the basics (14 percent), shopping at a new grocery store (20 percent), adopting curbside restaurant and store pickup (15 percent and 19 percent for new and increased users, respectively), and using video conference software professionally and personally for the first time (21 percent and 23 percent for new and increased users, respectively). Given these rapid changes in consumer behavior and our willingness to branch out, now may be a good time to think about expanding your commerce experience into emerging areas such as virtual reality shopping and more.

When trying to reach digital natives and tech-wary seniors alike, having a variety of ways to find and purchase products is important. Some may love a click-and-ship experience. Others will want to talk to real humans along the way. Either way, the market has seen a new wave of digital adopters.

Drive your message home

Shrewd retailers are already using data from their digitally savvy customers to deliver personalized, contextualized messaging. But what about the customers who are still learning to shop in these online environments? For this group, content should be more educational than persuasive:

Whatever customers’ online-shopping skill sets, helpful and inspirational communication is critical right now. And there is no better time to invest in new digital infrastructure. Organizations that are digitally mature are having an easier time being resilient.

Accelerate your retail experience

Specific future predictions aside, it’s likely things will never quite be the same. Contactless deliveries and touchless in-store mobile transactions will become the new norm. Delivery lockers will become permanent fixtures. The biggest takeaway to come out of this chaos for retailers is that it is time to change gears. Their tech, their strategy, and their customer service must evolve for this new, digital world order.

Learn how we’re helping retailers enhance their digital experiences.

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