In-store shopping has rebounded post-pandemic. But while a retreat from online sales was predicted, the speed and scale of shoppers returning to bricks-and-mortar stores was less anticipated. Despite the convenience of online, consumers are attracted by the social and immersive experience of physical stores. However, post-pandemic physical shopping is a different beast to the olden days. Consumers have become conditioned to certain aspects of online shopping – notably convenience and personali
alisation – and now expect the same in physical stores. To build and sustain the bricks-and-mortar momentum, retailers need to find a way to bridge the gap between online and in-store experiences. The physical and digital must be merged to offer the best service and most seamless experience to the customer. It needs to match the brand promise and be captivating enough to delight customers. A research report states that 61 per cent of consumers are likely to spend more in a store, and 90 per cent are more likely to return, if they have a positive in-store experience. Queuing up at the store An example of the renewed appetite for bricks-and-mortar is the recent release of the iPhone 15. Apple enthusiasts worldwide lined up to buy the latest iPhone, even though it was arguably easier and more efficient to buy it online. But getting the latest model was about the anticipation and the superior experience of shopping at Apple. It’s the achievement of finally getting to the front of the queue and then having an Apple staff member take you on your own personal shopping tour. Queues outside luxury brand stores are often a familiar sight in cities like Sydney. By serving customers one-on-one, stores can create a personal experience where a shopper is made to feel cherished and known, in the same way they would if they were logged in to a favourite online store that held all their previous purchase history and preferences. There’s also a social and aspirational aspect to being part of a crowd of high-end shoppers, which can’t easily be replicated online. The need to elevate physical retail To provide these types of outstanding experiences, retailers must look at unifying their underlying physical and digital commerce systems. Unified commerce involves integrating all the data-driven channels of retail on a consolidated platform – including customer and product data both in-store and online. It empowers retailers to deliver elevated and connected experiences to customers online and in-store. An example of where the ‘phygital’ trend isn’t seamless is the following consumer story. A customer visits a large retail store seeking guidance from their knowledgeable fine wine expert to select a special bottle for a birthday celebration. After consulting the expert, the customer decides on a particularly luxurious A$1000 bottle of wine. The bottle is carefully handed to the customer, and as they make their way to the checkout counter, it is casually placed into the same brown paper bag that accompanies an A$10 bottle of nameless wine. The last leg of the customer journey is a complete mismatch with the elevated customer service offered throughout their experience at the store. The basic brown paper wrap doesn’t make the final transaction memorable. The conversation in-store and the high-end purchase don’t match the last leg of the customer journey and experience. This experience highlights the importance of seamless retailing, where mobile Point of Sale (PoS) systems and integrated retail customer service offerings play an integral role in ensuring that the entire customer journey is cohesive and enhances the overall shopping experience. Through unified commerce, retailers can use customer insights to create personalised experiences and drive customer loyalty. Replicating the advantages of online Another aspect of online shopping that consumers have become accustomed to is instant, comprehensive information and transparency (such as product reviews). They can, of course, look up details via mobile while shopping in-store, but this runs the risk of them seeing alternative (and possibly cheaper) purchase options. Publicis Sapient research found that 55 per cent of consumers sometimes go to a physical store to check out an item before purchasing it online. The challenge for physical retailers is to avoid their store becoming a physical showroom for products that are eventually bought elsewhere. Loyalty programs can play a vital role here, giving consumers an incentive to purchase in-store, as well as store-exclusive discounts. Digital signage is another possible solution: offering touchscreen displays and dedicated tablets where customers can browse the full product catalogue. This can also enable them to access and buy particular items that may not be in the current physical store but in another branch or warehouse. Because immediacy is such a critical component of bricks-and-mortar stores, retailers must strive to offer what convenience they can, through BOPIS (buy online, pick up in-store) or ‘buy in-store, ship to home’ – which means fixing last-mile delivery issues. Ultimately, bricks-and-mortar stores need to become rich experience hubs, where customers interact with brands and touch and feel products. Stores must embrace a digital and data-driven approach. By seamlessly merging data from online platforms, mobile apps, in-store interactions, and inventory channels, retailers can enhance their physical presence and offer the tailored, interconnected experiences that consumers desire.