By Madhuvanthi Ananth, Head – Consumer Business Unit, Sasken Technologies Limited
Amazon buying the Whole Food Market is the company’s biggest move into brick and mortar retailing. As per a report, “By 2020, customer experience will overtake price and product as the key brand differentiator.” Therefore, retailers must interconnect their processes to respond appropriately to a variety of possible customer journeys. For businesses to thrive, it is vital to understand the customer expectations out of each channel. While digital is for convenience, physical is for the experience.
According to a recent PwC report, Total Retail Survey 2017, “40% of global shoppers prefer to purchase clothing and footwear online, while 51% prefer in store.” Also, “53% of shoppers globally prefer to do their research for grocery purchases in store, while 30% of shoppers prefer to research online.” Although e-commerce sales account for about 8.5 percent of the total retail sales, the growth has been rapid in this space. The online trends are affecting consumer habits. Customers now look for a similar user experience from physical stores as they find online. However, the advances in the physical store enhancements are noteworthy, it is just about the time the physical store owners rethink on their retail strategies leveraging digital.
“A showroom can add value in several ways relative to the online retail environment”, says PwC in its 2017 Retail Trends. The report also highlights that “physical stores experience a return rate of about 3 percent, compared with about 25 percent for online sales, and an even higher percentage in the case of highly fashionable or fit-critical items.”
Bick and mortar retailers are adopting a futuristic approach to make their stores an ultimate shopping destination. Frontrunners like Apple have managed to spot and embrace the change quickly and quite gracefully. The brand replaced all the traditional points of sale with portable devices and iPods eliminating the need to queue up at all. The customers pay for their goods at any time in store through their device.
Bloomingdale featured a “Clothing-to-Go” window display for a limited period in the brand’s Manhattan outlet. Using touchscreens, the display offered on-the-go opportunity to control the color of Ralph Lauren clothing in the display from the sidewalk. Those interested could either purchase the outfit from the sidewalk itself or request a link to the page to initiate an online purchase.
Recently reported, the largest e-commerce player, Amazon is building a fleet of physical stores in the retail space. The idea is to sell items that consumers are reluctant to buy over the internet such as furniture and home appliances. Meanwhile, in Seattle, the brand has gone live with a convenience store without cashiers.
Oasis, a UK-based fashion retailer, is integrating its mobile app, website and physical stores to make the best out of its physical and digital assets. Their in-store associates are loaded with iPads all the time to assist customers with any and every information related to the products. If an in-store item goes out-of-stock, the associate can check for availability on the online store and place the order right there. And, if a product is sold out online, the customers can avail the “Seek&Send” service wherein the retailer is immediately notified and he checks for the desired product in the store. Once located, the retailer sends an email notification to the shopper for track and trace.
Marks & Spencers’ Virtual Rail is a typical example of how retailers are leveraging novel technologies not only to attract new customers but also to enhance the experience for the ones already in their stores. The virtual Rail mounted in the brand’s Amsterdam store plays videos and other rich media for the latest trends. Customers can browse the life-sized imagery on a touchscreen which simulates a real life clothing rail. After making the final choice, the customers can place an order for free delivery through in-store iPads.
Digital now means an alternate world that coexists with the physical surroundings. More than a solution, digital is the way of living, thanks to the internet! For people to remember your brand, retailers must focus on delivering exceptional experiences crafted with a perfect integration of digital in the physical space.