Depending on who you ask, “Is physical retail dead?”, the answers will land broadly between a confident “yes” and an absolute “no.” And we’ve seen both trends growing: pure online players like Madison Reed opening brick-and-mortar locations, as well as traditional four-wall retailers amplifying their e-Commerce presence.
Within the past few years, for example, digital pure player and beauty retailer Madison Reed opened Color Bars, physical stores in which consumers can experience Madison Reed’s hair color products and consult a beauty specialist in person with any questions. Traditional retailers such as Nordstrom also have seen success, by launching smaller physical retail concepts that incorporate key technological elements designed to create experiential and services-oriented retailing.
The key for retailers to excel in both the perfect physical and digital environment is to look for key combinations creating highly connected retail experiences. To meet consumer needs, they must consider the following best practices.
A Connected In-Store Setting
If immersive and convenient experiences are what attract shoppers, then retailers should ensure the physical store provides a clear path for shoppers to easily transition from the store to their digital device, and back to the physical setting, without skipping a beat. Chances are, a shopper entering the store likely browsed the retailer’s web site and Instagram feed beforehand and has bookmarked the items they intend to purchase. Therefore, the clear value-proposition for journeying into the store is to experience the product in person.
An engaging in-store environment is one that excels in providing the shopper with key digital components, such as interactive touchscreens, to facilitate finding an item, checking its price and buying it. As well, a digital in-store interface brings the brand to life through additional activities, like an interactive dressing room for shoppers to discover unique outfit combinations or request different sizes or accessories.
The key to creating an engaging in-store experience is finding the right balance between self-service through technology and face-to-face interaction with in-store associates.
Reducing Friction Within The Store
Physical retail is not dead — outdated retail is. According to a recent report by ServiceChannel, “70% of shoppers have had a recent negative experience in stores,” yet the same report points out that “86% of consumers still make more than half their purchases in store.”
A shopper can experience friction in a physical retail setting in a variety of ways. If you group these experiences together, you’ll see a common theme: consumers face frustration when running up against a retailer’s inability to have a unified view of the customer, connecting shopper information across all channels. A customer may arrive to the store, for example, only to find the product they sought to purchase is not available. Or they might interact with a store associate not empowered with the technology needed to provide a personalized in-store experience.
There are several retailers in the market today ensuring the right combination of technological components exist within the physical store, ultimately reducing friction for consumers. Last year, TheFittingRoom, a month-long pop-upproject in Sweden, combinedthebest of physical and digital retail — in less than 700 square feet — to increase online sales by 43% and reduce returns by 89%. Orders were placed on interactive touchscreens and shipped fromthe respective brands’ warehouses, freeing upthestaff to dedicate all their time and attention to assisting customers.
The key to reducing friction within the store is to ensure the shopping experience is completely connected across channels. As well, retailers should look to create an in-store environment that takes the shopping journey beyond the four walls.
Key Technology Factors To Consider
When marrying the best of digital with traditional physical shopping experiences, retailers need to prioritize making the technology they implement easy to deploy and manage throughout all locations. For example, if retailers are looking to offer shoppers interactive touchscreens, connected shopper profiles and real-time inventory visibility, the technology partner they choose must enable them to provide a connected consumer-facing experience, as well as iterate with ease when updates need to be made.
The Physical And Digital Combination
Retailers today are transforming both physical and e-Commerce offerings by prioritizing the overall customer experience. More often than not, this is achieved through the addition of interactive technology designed to make frictionless connections between the physical and digital shopping channels. Why? Today’s shoppers no longer think in terms of channels. They want to be able to transition seamlessly throughout their shopping journey, from their mobile device and desktop all the way to the store — and they want this journey to be easy and convenient.
Once at the store, they expect to receive an experience that an e-Commerce offering alone cannot provide — the ability to touch, feel and test out different products before purchase, as well as discover new products and use cases. By marrying the very best of physical and digital, retailers can create memorable retail experiences in-store.
Luke Wilwerding is the Senior Director of North America Sales at Elo, a global leader in touchscreen solutions. As director, Wilwerding leads interactive in-store initiatives for North America’s largest merchandisers. Wilwerding brings over 20 years of experience in IT innovation and sales, having served in key roles at HP and Data Management Products before joining Elo in 2005. Working with some of the biggest retailers around the world, he is in a unique position to see the best interactive customer engagement deployments and to understand what’s coming next in retail.