When Amazon opened its virtual doors over 20 years ago as an online bookstore, no single analyst at the time could have predicted just how much the seller would disrupt the entire retail ecosystem. Their initial success is completely logical. It makes perfect sense that Amazon could replace the corner bookseller. Its recommendation algorithms, online reviews, and page previews all but replaced the necessity of the in-store experience. Do you, after all, really need to touch a book or a CD before you buy it?
The same isn’t really true for all retail goods. Recently, FedEx CEO Fred Smith said that eCommerce will never replace brick and mortar sellers. It’s hard to argue with his pragmatism:
“I think you’re going to see e-tailers become more brick-and-mortar. And I think you’re going to see brick-and-mortar become more e-tailers. You have to be flexible and nimble to be able to deal with the market as it evolves, because you’re not going to be able to predict exactly how it’s going to evolve, that I can promise you.”
You’re not going to be able to predict the future. We agree with Smith, though, that the future will always include a mix of physical and online retail. Sellers will continually have to adapt to keep up with each other. To what extent? Who knows. However, brands and stores that do adapt and morph will be the winners.
How? We have some ideas.
1. Use Online Analytics to Understand Your Customers, Offline and Online
According to recent research from New York University, you can predict how some customers will respond to in-person or online shopping based on how they think. The report suggests that certain personality types will want to touch and handle objects before purchase, and others are happy to review product descriptions online. Using psychographic data helps marketers communicate to their respective audiences, knowing how to reach individuals who prefer to shop in person or on the website.
Bottom line: know thy customer and communicate accordingly. Today’s retail marketer needs data that corresponds to buyer personas, and that data should drive when and how they sell specific goods.
2. Enable In-store Staff to Complete Online Transactions for Customers
How often does this happen to you: you are looking for a specific item in store it’s nowhere to be found.
Let’s say you want to exchange a pair of jeans for a different size. Wouldn’t it be great if you could walk up to a clerk with the exact pair you want and say: “I looked all over but I just need these in a 33 x 30. Can you order them for me?” Then, with a few swipes and a credit card payment: the jeans are on their way.
Put more simply: why aren’t stores using websites as an alternate supplier for the in-person shopping experience?
Create an environment where clerks can make an online purchase for a customer and let the customer choose whether or not the item is shipped to the store or the home.
Bottom Line: That is a simple and easy way to enhance loyalty, increase customer satisfaction, improve experience, and improve revenue. (Also: why isn’t every omnichannel retailer doing this already?)
3. Do Anything and Everything to Reinforce Brand Loyalty
Nordstrom is allowing people to reserve online and try in store. Nordstrom has always differentiated its stores by emphasizing best-of-breed customer service. They’ve embraced online selling and now lead the pack in their category online. Of course, it makes sense that they’d leverage their considerable physical footprint and their user-friendly site to enable purchases. Bravo.
Snapchat has developed new AR tech that lets advertisers insert 3D models of products into ads. Imagine how that could facilitate shoppers looking for furniture, a new automobile, and other large investments.
Target just announced a partnership with Pinterest to improve visual search inside its app. Target is the first retailer to incorporate Pinterest Lens, a proactive move to stay in step with the increase of visual searching.
Bottom Line: The more brands and sellers embrace and incorporate technology that blends the breadth and speed of the internet with the immediacy of brick and mortar shopping, the more those sellers and consumers both win.
4. Get Aggressive With Your Online Business
Buried in the stories of the failed retail giants is one unmistakable consistency: none of them embraced online soon enough. There is a lot of “too little, too late” reorganizing going on, whether that’s coming from ToysRUs or Abercrombie (see sidebar).
This spot-on piece in Retail Dive gets it right:
“Physical retailers must embrace digital retailing as a means to further their presence online, drive traffic into the stores and create better customer experiences. This means shattering, quickly, the barriers (organizationally, systems, culture) that exist between channels.”
In other words: innovate. Try. Experiment. Deploy meaningful data strategies. Measure. Fail. Succeed. Then: do it again. Those who learn now could find a spot for themselves in the future of online and physical retail.
Bottom Line: From Retail Dive: “We are well past discussion on these topics. While Amazon will continue to be a clear winner, the question now becomes, who is poised to join them? Retailers must move from being Prime Day victims to prime time opportunists.”
Yep. What they said.
5. Enhance the Brick and Mortar Experience As Much As Possible
Shopping at Ikea can be a grind, but it’s also an adventure. The playrooms for kids and snack bars with low-cost and yummy treats feels like a reward for enduring their showroom and the self-service warehouse.
Target long ago wisely swapped outdated snack bars with Starbucks kiosks to attract busy moms and millennials. Now, when you enter a store, you are greeted with the tantalizing smell of spiced lattes and brewed coffee instead of popcorn and hot dogs. There was nothing wrong with the popcorn and the hotdogs, but it’s not what today’s consumer would arguably want.
Apple Stores are continually (and notably) innovating the live experience with sleek design, and their stores of the future are going to be next-generation amazing (yes, they will have trees).
It’s called experiential retail for a reason. It’s not just about empty perks: it’s about looking at the existing physical footprint and exploiting space in ways that inspire, and engender, brand loyalty and return visits.
Bottom Line: Do bold things that go a long way to extend brand loyalty by allowing the in-person, brick and mortar experience to complement the online environment.
This shift in retail has been a long time in the making. Innovators and customer-driven companies can still find ways to survive and thrive in this environment with aggressive and creative tactics.
Content Analytics can help your brand thrive in eCommerce.