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Brick-and-Mortar’s Future Lies in Extending the Online Shopping Experience

shopper looking at shopping cart in cloud

For anyone with a finger on the pulse of the retail industry, they will have noticed long ago that we have entered the age of e-commerce, and it is clear that it isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. 
With each passing year, the number of retail sales that are conducted online versus in-store is rising steadily, with year-over-year growth of between 12% and 16% in e-commerce, according to the United States Census Bureau. And following two years of pandemic-related restrictions, this has only been accelerated, with the year-over-year growth rate more than double the average rate of the last 10 years. 
Many are predicting this will all contribute to the death of physical brick-and-mortar retail locations. But this is far from the current reality as it simply presents a new challenge for retailer executives to tackle as they look to modernize the operations of their retail chains in a consistent and unified fashion to meet the reality of the modern retail landscape. 
Among the many challenges, retailer executives are tasked with empowering their chain of stores locations to compete with — or if they can harness the right strategy, working in tandem with — the convenience of online shopping and the variety of shopping options e-commerce provides.

E-commerce not only allows consumers to shop from wherever they want, but also to leverage the convenience of product filters and other online tools like automated discount codes and coupons; all of which retail executives must account for as they look to strengthen and modernize their chain of physical retail locations and incentivize customers to visit their stores.

Bridging the gap between online and offline shopping
Creating new value or raising the value that your brick-and-mortar stores provide to your consumers and their customer experience is a matter of reimagining the role that your physical locations play; while also ensuring a certain standard of consistency is maintained across your chain.

Many see the key to this transformation lying in two distinct areas: either extending the customer experience of the online shopping experience into the physical stores, or providing a unique experience within physical stores that online shopping simply is unable to.

The retail chains who are able to meet this challenge — and transform the way they utilize their physical store locations to provide an entirely new and unique shopping experience — will be the ones who set themselves up for future success within the modern retail landscape.

Extending the online experience into your stores
One such strategy that has seen great success in recent years and falls into the category of extending the customer perception of the online shopping experience into the physical store is encouraging online customers to use the “click and collect” option. 

This provides a seamless and convenient shopping experience for consumers, cuts out any added costs or wait time associated with delivery, and ensures their item does not end up in the wrong hands by accident. Additionally, it reduces transportation costs for retailers while improving their environmental impact, which is no small win.

And for the retailers offering this shopping option, it does more than provide them an opportunity to harmonize their in-store experience and online shopping experience into a single unified shopping journey. Research has also shown that nearly 50% of consumers who come into a store to collect an item will made an additional unplanned purchase while there, which creates a great sales opportunity for retailers. 

To encourage their customers to use the “click and collect” option, retail executives must ensure their online resources are providing this option in an easy-to-use format, providing clear instructions on how to use it, supporting visibility into the real-time availability of products, and possibly most importantly, making it clear that this option is the only way they can be provided with their product at the earliest possible time.

Providing a unique in-store experience
Toppling the convenience that online shopping provides is practically impossible. Instead, retail executives should be focusing their efforts on providing an in-store experience that simply cannot be replicated through online shopping and one that maintains a standard of consistency across their chain. 

To do this, they must push their organization to leverage the swaths of data they have available to them about their consumers and their consumer expectations and behaviors, then use this to create the shopping experience that their customers truly desire.

Some have done this through special in-store events that combine fun and novelty with a unique shopping experience, which not only provides retailers with an opportunity to cement loyal customers, but also to create a media buzz with a noteworthy event.

A great example of this was when furniture retailer Ikea organized an exclusive “PJ Party” sleepover event at their stores, in which attendees got the opportunity to speak to sleep experts and peruse the various sleep set options available through Ikea. Attendees then spent the night at the store on mattresses, sheets, and pillows that they selected, while also being offered various activities like yoga, meditation, and bedtime snacks.

Another popular strategy in this regard is having in-store consumers use technology in conjunction with the brick-and-mortar facilities to guide their in-store shopping experience, creating a new level of immersive shopping never before seen in the world of retail. 

Some innovative examples of this include beauty retailer Sephora creating a personal shopping assistant app for their customers to use while they are in the store, or fashion retailer Rebecca Minkoff implementing interactive mirrors in its dressing rooms to allow customers to virtually try on different colors and sizes at the touch of a button.

Other less flashy examples of this from retailers with huge showrooms like Ikea and Home Depot are providing apps that include virtual trip planner and in-store digital navigation capabilities to guide your shopping experience, which provide great value to the consumer. 

The future of brick-and-mortar stores
As retail executives come around to realize the supposed death of the in-store shopping experience was not only premature but also irresponsibly inaccurate, they must look to strategically leverage the unique capabilities of their chain of physical stores.

Doing so by extending the online shopping experience into their stores and providing distinctive in-store experiences is a key step in doing so; investing in the technology needed to facilitate this should be front of mind for all decision-makers in the retail industry.

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