In the not so distant past, people made a distinction between the digital world of e-commerce and the brick-and-mortar world of retail stores. The line that divided the online and the offline was clearly delineated, allowing businesses to determine their goals and design their strategies based on the normative expectations that surrounded these two very different spheres of commerce.
These days, this line between what is solely the domain of electronic commerce and that of physical retail spaces is slowly being eroded, thanks to the rise of new business models, processes, and technologies that are causing these separate worlds to intertwine.
Embracing the Omni-channel Approach
Presently, many businesses have begun to adopt a more omnichannel approach to retail and marketing. Supported by Internet technologies, this business model seeks to afford customers with a more seamless, more integrated shopping experience no matter the touch point or avenue involved in customer contact. Naturally, this has resulted in the convergence of online and offline shopping experiences in which buyers are presented with a multitude of options and technologies that are aimed at making shopping easier.
An apparel company, for instance, may choose to maintain both a brick-and-mortar outlet and an e-commerce shop to widen their customers’ options. After all, buyers may want to visit the physical shop to try on the clothes in person, or they may want to purchase these items in the comfort of their own homes.
In order to make the shopping experience as seamless as possible, a retailer will have to consider numerous other elements. For example, the launch of a merchandise can be promoted through social media or online advertisements, but it will have to be readily available once a customer decides to shop in person or online. The pricing also has to be consistent whether the person shops in-store or online and any existing promotion or incentive must be redeemable no matter the shopping format. The customer can be also provided with different options on how to obtain the merchandise, whether they want it delivered on their doorstep, picked up at the store after ordering online, or taken away from the store after shopping in person.
Revitalizing the Physical Retail Space
It may seem counterintuitive to think that Internet and digital technologies can improve in-store shopping experiences in physical retail spaces. After all, the idea of e-commerce appears to be antithetical to that of shopping in the real world. Nevertheless, as already mentioned, the Internet has made it possible for companies to integrate these two seemingly different worlds.
Beyond online marketing and e-commerce, however, Internet technologies are also effecting direct impacts on the physical retail environments themselves. To better understand the impact of the Internet and digital technologies on the in-store shopping experience, consider the study conducted by Google and partners, which revealed that 71% of in-store shoppers who use a smartphone for online research believed that their mobile phone has become more important to their in-store experience.
Not only do Internet and digital technologies provide customers with local information online before they actually go to the stores, they also allow retailers to customize buyers’ experiences once they are already in-store. This is why in-store Wi-Fi for retail environments are very important. The Google study showed that 42% of in-store shoppers conduct research while they shop in brick-and-mortar stores. Most of these people use search engines and the retailers’ own site or app to learn more about the items they are using. With this knowledge, retailers are presented with an opportunity to think of ways to better connect with their customers, as well as prevent them from choosing the competition.
If businesses can impress and engage savvy shoppers with innovative and personalized experiences that are tailored just for them, they can attract more customers with whom they can build long-lasting relationships. After all, the same study revealed that 85% of the respondents would be more likely to shop in destinations that provided personalized offers.
With this information as inspiration, businesses can then make use of the Internet and digital technologies to further enhance the customer experience. These can include employing QR codes and mobile coupons to deliver in-store promotions, using near-field communication technology and mobile payments to make it easier for cashless individuals to pay for merchandise, and capturing customer details in store so that they can be automatically signed up to your mailing list in exchange for deals and promos.
Within just a short period of time, Internet and digital technologies have greatly enhanced the way retailers conduct their business. As the digital and physical worlds of retail grow even closer, we can only expect more innovative solutions to be discovered and employed in the near future.