Reimagining the retail bridge between online and offline shopping

The rise of retail giants like Amazon is a widely documented trend with many digital, built-in-the-cloud market entrants having overtaken and displaced the entrenched high street brands we’ve loved and are now losing. However, as more bricks-and-mortar retailers expand their e-commerce offerings and online giants increasingly begin to physically ‘set up shop’ in local malls and high streets, the lines between offline and online retail are fast becoming blurred.

Changing shopping habits and skyrocketing consumer expectations have left retailers scrambling to reimagine business processes in an effort to get closer to their customers and offer a frictionless, consistently high quality service across online and offline channels. Millennials are at the forefront of this change. Comprising the largest online audience, and soon to have more buying power than any generation ever, they increasingly discover products online before going out to shop but still want to touch, feel and explore products before purchasing them.

Bricks and clicks

Decreasing profits and store closures show the kind of struggle high street retailers are facing. However, the internet giants, such as Amazon, are thriving in this new age of retail. It appears that high street stores have realised that the success of the internet giants is, in part, due to the deployment of technology. As such, the headlines are populated with stories of the latest retailer investing in innovative technologies, within offline and online environments, to appeal to customers.

Investments in innovative technology include physical stores integrating smart technology with the hope of enhancing the physical experience for the shopper. Smart mirrors, for example, will enable customers to virtually request different sizes and styles of clothes from the changing room. Online retailers are also using technology in an attempt to replicate the offline world on their online platform. Apps which use augmented reality have the ability to show you what a sofa or lampshade would look like in your living room.

Yet, there is a sense that retailers are putting the cart before the horse with regards to employing these innovative technologies as they do not necessarily address the real reasons consumers are no longer flocking to high street stores. In the current climate, consumers are time-poor and are in need of retailers whose purchasing model suits their individual lifestyles.

There’s too much choice and it’s too easy to walk away – whether it’s because the goods they are looking to buy seem a little too heavy to carry home from the store or the payment form online is too complex. Technology is the key to retailers being able to provide a service tailored to the modern-day consumer but it must be applied with purpose and strategy if it is to have the impact retailers are hoping it will.

Securing those clicks

In the dawn of a new retail era, high street retailers might be missing a trick. Take Amazon, for example. With a progressive stream of scandals around corporate taxation and questionable product selections, it’s not just a strong brand affinity that’s driving people to shop with them. In fact, the value of brand image is slowly being eroded throughout the digital age in which customer experience comes out on top. Brand loyalty is no longer as influential as it once was in purchasing decisions or customer retention.

As a result, the majority of consumers are switching to purchasing goods from internet giants predominantly because, through the right delivery models, these companies can power a level of immediacy and convenience for customers that other retailers have so far found difficult to fulfill. Amazon, again, truly understands the mindset of the modern-day consumer and has created a retail experience which fits seamlessly into the time-poor, millennial lifestyle. Convenience is a commodity customers are willing to pay a premium for. And so, Amazon has focused its energy on the services that consumers actually want, rather than adopting technology for the sake of innovation.

Amazon completely reimagined its customers’ experience on the site through the “one-click checkout” which saves customers the chore of manually inputting payment details and its “Prime” service which provides customers with next day delivery. Tremendous take-up of the service proves that convenience wins every time and caused Amazon to roll-out “Prime Now”, in which products can be delivered as quickly as an hour after placing an order. Its business model has not only capitalised on consumer behavior but driven it and now, rapid convenient delivery has become the new normal that all retailers have to contend with – the Amazon effect.

Naturally, technological advances are behind the creation of these new levels of service but a business’ strategy for customer retention, acquisition and experience must be rooted in the problems your customers most need help with. It is this consumer-first approach, with technology facilitating the needs of consumers, that is key to the future success of the British retail industry.

What about the bricks  

It still sometimes feels like the rise of online shopping will kill the high street. But the rise in retailers adopting a brick and click business model shows that there is still a place for physical retail outlets. Brick and click ensures that retailers reconcile and integrate online and offline channels into a single retail strategy which is perfectly aligned. For example, if you go to a physical store and the retailer is out of your size, it should be possible to place an order and have the right size delivered to your house or closest store using the online site.   

However, it is not just traditional bricks-and-mortar retailers that are reevaluating their online-offline mix. The likes of Amazon and Missguided, huge e-commerce businesses, are now opening stores on the high street to ensure they have an offline presence as well. This physical expansion is partly driven by consumer desire to interact with shop assistants and the ability to ‘feel’ and see what they are buying. Online platforms cannot replace the experience of visiting a shop.

It’s clear that if high street retailers want to weather the current economic climate, having a positive brand image and a physical presence on the high street is no longer enough. High street retailers need a carefully constructed omnichannel strategy, comprised of marketing, delivery logistics, apps and physical stores as well as access to the right partners and technology which are all perfectly aligned to serve the consumer in the best way possible.

Santosh Sahu, CEO of On the dot

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