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Consumer experience in retail’s next-generation

JGL_4162lrbwWith every organisation aiming for the digital stars, while viewing the offline store and print marketing as an antiquated memory, has the game changed now in 2016?

Late last year, Amazon did something quite unexpected, given the current global market trend – the pure play online operator opened its first physical bookstore in Seattle, Washington. This strategic move from Amazon goes against every prediction that it would soon be the beginning of the end for bricks and mortar stores. It could also be considered a somewhat foolish gamble, given the recent doom of all of its bricks and mortar book competitors, such as Borders.

Despite all this, they did it. And they’re not alone. Extremely successful fashion and homewares brands such as Bonobos, Warby Parker and Temple & Webster are doing the same, transitioning from exclusively online to a more omnichannel model, reaching customers by blending their digital e-commerce with a physical shopfront presence. Even brands such as Myer, David Jones, Zara, Topshop and Burberry which, in the beginning, consisted primarily of stores and then consolidated to transition more to the digital sphere, are now starting to establish a more ideal balance between both worlds.

This is a fascinating trend, given how much attention online shopping has received over the last decade. Despite the global explosion of technology, brands are beginning to recognise the increasing opportunity of a more comprehensive marketing strategy, which encompasses an optimal presence across both the physical and the digital when reaching customers. That’s because there are desirable experiences and features that digital channels can never truly replace for the customer, just like there are immediacies and conveniences that online offers.

However, just like when e-commerce was introduced and traditional retailers were resistant, the trend has now reversed, and some digital brands are mistakenly hesitant to acknowledge the attributes of the offline store. The new age is a marketing model that innovatively embraces both.

Customers want to be wowed by an experience when they shop, and this is now starting to trump the force behind the original push to digital, which was solely accessibility. People now demand an immersive connection to a product and a brand, and organisations must adopt an integrated omnichannel retail marketing strategy to capitalise on this.

That doesn’t just mean that digital companies need to simply open a pop-up store and the money will come rolling in. Nor does it mean that physical retail stores can smile and be thankful that they stuck it out. Australian customers want to be wowed on both fronts, in unique and fresh ways. Whether their origins are online or offline, organisations should integrate and harness the strengths of both channels to create a better consumer experience.

Take Target’s recently launched new store format as a case in point. The store shifts customer experience to a whole new level, with fashion experts offering a personalised service, an instore cafe, styling workshops and sessions, guest appearances, interactive digital terminals which allow customers to design their own clothing and pick it up instore, photo booths, augmented reality, and much more. This is the next step in furthering the enjoyment of the experience their customers look for, and will most certainly appreciate.

Marketing strategies that aim to make the shopping experience fun, social and truly interactive are being adopted quickly in overseas markets by the likes of Marks and Spencer, Lakeland, Screwfix, Habitat, Waterstones and Wilko in the UK.

However, Australian retailers are lagging on this. We’re failing to visualise a new era in the blending of a truly amazing offline/online product launch, immersive exposure and customer participation. But the retailers who do will reap sizeable benefits.

Jemma Caprioli is group marketing manager at Dashing Print, an integrated provider of retail technology and print solutions.

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