Stores of the future: what can physical retail learn from eCommerce?

Paul Lynch from CX specialists LiveArea describes how high street retailers need to emulate their online rivals if they are to survive.

Brick-and-mortar stores have faced an ongoing battle, and the importance of connected commerce has been brought into the spotlight over the past year. Consumer expectations have shifted and brand experiences across every channel need to be consistent and memorable for brands to stay successful.

After a turbulent year, it’s understandable in-store experiences are having to be brought up to speed with the new landscape. Many online retailers have driven huge growth with the variety of products on offer that cater to mass audiences at competitive prices. With the reopening of the high street, retailers should be thinking about elements of the online store that can be applied to the physical retail environment.

Product information

Consumers need to know everything there is to understand about a product before hitting the purchase button, and the product detail page (PDP) communicates all of that information.

Digital technologies can be used to relay product information to customers when shopping in-store. Shoppers can turn to their mobiles to scan QR codes, launch AR/VR apps and virtual try-on tools. Elsewhere, clientele apps and interactive screens can showcase reviews and demo videos, providing detailed product information easily found online but not usually available in-store.

What’s more, ratings and reviews are key tools to help build trust and authenticity in the online world – and this should be just as common in-store. Amazon uses digital price tags in its Amazon Go stores, showing the average star rating for each product, in the same way as when we’re shopping online. Customers could be encouraged to leave one-tap reviews on their mobile devices as they leave the store – Uber can do this effectively, so why can’t stores?

Locating items online and viewing real-time stock availability is easy online, but this hasn’t traditionally been the case in-store. We’re all used to flicking through countless racks and eventually asking a store assistant for help. However, the convenience of the inventory visibility tools used online can be brought in-store quite easily through interactive store maps and product locators.

Browsing and categorising

Online shopping is catered for convenience, with shoppers able to easily find products and browse through a seemingly infinite number of categories. Product recommendations and bundles are online tools used by retailers to increase the average order value, while also helping customers find an outfit, or provide restaurant suggestions, for example.

In addition, shoppers can view curated product ranges or visit websites that allow customers to filter by sustainable ranges or health products. Given brick-and-mortar stores are typically sorted by product type or brand, it’s much harder to relay this functionality in- store. However, technology can now be used in a multitude of ways. Customers can locate their chosen product from their devices, with a clientele app providing tailored recommended products or item bundles, and store associates  can go on to pack the items so they’re ready to go.

Personalising the experience

We’ve grown accustomed to receiving personalised offers and recommendations when shopping online. While this functionality is typically considered online-only, what if we could bring it to the offline world?  Recommended products, birthday offers, loyalty rewards and coupons – these can be replicated physically. A physical cookie can enable personalised recommendations, personal vouchers, seamless payments, flexible fulfilment, cross-channel purchasing and loyalty benefits.

For example, a consumer may browse a store online while sitting on a bus and save a beauty product as a favourite, or add it to their virtual shopping bag. As they pass by a store, the brand’s app can send them a notification that the store has the product in stock and provide directions to help them find the product quickly and easily. The app can also use a customer’s purchase history or preferences to recommend additional products and maximise the value of the sale, while providing a more personalised experience.

Utilising data

Data and analytics have been a lifeline for brands with an online presence. It gives them the power to understand digital user behaviour, curate and optimise moments and interactions online, and design experiences to promote certain behaviours – all driven by data and intent. Now we need to understand how data can shape offline behaviours. How can we utilise data to optimise the customer journey, ensuring we’re applying that data in a timely, relevant way, to make real changes that are useful to the in-store customer?

There is a wealth of data at brands’ fingertips when customers shop in-store: In-store sales, product engagement, merchandising, pricing, and customer feedback. Combined with online browsing and behavioural data, brands can enhance marketing strategies, merchandising, experience design and loyalty efforts.

The right technology is essential

Leveraging a lean microservices architecture through APIs, brands and retailers are embracing headless commerce to facilitate digital innovations. Headless commerce allows brands and retailers to use the same back-end management platform to manage customer data, payments, inventory, and fulfilment systems, to reach all customer-facing points of sale, whether in-store, on mobile, or both at the same time. For example, a shopper might browse products while  on a train and save an outfit as a favourite or add to their cart. As the customer then passes by a store, the brand app can send them a notification that the store has the outfit in stock, in their size and a map of the store to find the item quickly and easily.

The experience doesn’t have to end there, with the ability of auto-shopping, the app can use a customer’s purchase history or preferences to recommend additional products and maximise the value of the sale, while providing a more personalised experience.

The in-store checkout experience needs to facilitate self-checkout post-pandemic. This has become a priority. For instance, Scan-and-Go technology allows a customer to place products in their basket, which can be recognised and paid for automatically – the customer can then walk out of the shop with their items, without the need for queuing or contact during payment. This serves to address factors such as social distancing measures, and also provides a smooth, convenient experience for customers, powered by microservices.

It’s all about experiences

It’s not the death of the high street just yet. The retail ecosystem is constantly changing, and businesses that wish to thrive must constantly adapt and give people more of a reason to head in-store. As the future of retail remains uncertain, brands and retailers must have modern strategies in place to drive growth in the post-Covid landscape.


Paul Lynch is Area Vice President & Managing Director, LiveArea EMEA

Main image courtesy of iStockPhoto.com

© Business Reporter 2021

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