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Digitizing the Storefront: Brick-and-mortar as the catalyst for omnichannel retail


For the retail industry, the storefront has taken on an entirely new meaning. The brick-and-mortar store is no longer the end-all-be-all in retailing, but the hub or pivotal point for a much larger movement – omnichannel retailing. Currently, traditional retailers compete for everything from having enough shelf-space, to engaging customers and bringing them into their physical store to make the final sale.

It is no longer enough to have an attractive in-store display in the current retail environment. A retailer’s merchandising strategy as well as its physical design strategy must bring omnichannel agility and allow retailers to easily store and deliver the products their customers are searching for – from their most in-demand product to that rare product that a small number of loyal customers desire.

Finding a balance between creating a space that will continue to push a retailer’s overall brand, yet maximize overall merchandising efforts, can be tricky – this is where e-commerce capabilities come into play.

Combining digital elements into the traditional store, and incorporating an online marketplace can be the key to helping retailers. This will not only expand their overall reach through inventory availability, rapid delivery and overall in-store design aesthetics, but it will also provide their customers with a personalized omnichannel retail experience, with the storefront serving as the central setting.

Maximizing In-Store Design With Digital Attributes

Today’s consumers don’t only shop when they’re in a physical store. Shopping has become a 24/7 activity that is easily conducted through a multitude of devices. Now, everything is interactive, and when it comes to meeting consumers’ omnichannel needs, the storefront is no exception.

A recent Forrester report explains that “today, $1.5 trillion in retail sales is generated by customers who start their shopping journey online and conclude it in the physical store” and therefore, “retailers recognize that they must move quickly to meet and then continually improve this customer expectation.” In fact, retailers are starting to discover that intertwining the physical store with digital elements such as electronic shelf labels or even an online marketplace can act as a secret weapon for winning customers’ attention over the competition.

We find an increasing number of retailers marrying digital components and physical storefronts to draw customers in and satisfy their need for an interactive experience, while still meeting their demand for a tangible product that they can touch and feel. Another great example of this kind of tactic at work is Rebecca Minkoff’s digital changing room. In 2015, for the debut of her first physical store, Rebecca Minkoff and her team brought in eBay’s retail innovation group to build a new kind of in-store experience – the digital changing room. As customers walk into the store, they are greeted by a huge screen that lets them finger-swipe through clothing styles which they can then select to have sent to their changing rooms to try on – blending the digital and physical.

As best described by a recent Babson College article, “Digital Technology And Bricks and Mortar Retail Stores,” “the benefits of online shopping, which come mainly from digitization, will be married with the human need for physical and local experiences to create a better shopping experience.” When retailers have a physical space to worry about, they struggle to maximize the profitability ratio of that space.

The main pain point they have to deal with is to reconcile their brand against their physical space. Bringing digital elements into the store can help ease this constraint and give way to building a great brand experience for customers. It engages them in a new way, whether through a device or digital product displays.

Preparing storefronts to become omnichannel hubs

Creating an omnichannel-enabled storefront requires retailers to provide their customers with flexible inventory options. Customers should have the ability to shop in-store and preview their favorite product – whether that product is available or not. They must either leave the store with it, or have it shipped to them on the spot. This is otherwise known as showrooming.

Over the years, showrooming’s reputation had tarnished among retailers, many of them fearing that it would ultimately cause diminishing sales given that the product is not available right then and there. However, with the ability to blend the digital with the physical, the concept of showrooming has sprung new legs, leading retailers to create an inviting store environment without having to sacrifice losing sales due to lack of inventory.

Online marketplaces can help retailers achieve this goal by reinventing the format of the stores, creating environments where retailers can choose to have as much or as little physical product as it makes sense for their brand, and still provide the consumer with the ability to purchase a particular product and have it delivered to them directly.

The online marketplace model allows more flexibility in how retailers merchandise their store – which is a very strong value proposition. It also allows brands to continue to push their brand recognition and while expanding merchandise assortment and categories to keep customers engaged and loyal to the retailer.

According to the recent Gartner article “Get Prepared for the Top Retail and Technology Trends,” “while some consumers prefer to place their orders online, there is always the option to pick up in-store. This makes the store the hub of digital business because it’s the basis of all transactions. Regardless of how advanced things continue to become, because of multichannel retailing, the store itself generates the most revenue and will continue to be the main channel for customer interaction.”

As the line between the digital and physical continues to blur in the retail industry, retailers with physical storefronts must find a way to continue evolving and engaging consumers. The key here is to amplify it through the launch of an online marketplace, ultimately creating an extended omnichannel terminal.

Adrien Nussenbaum is the CEO and co-founder of of Mirakl Inc., which provides state-of-the-art software solutions that allow B2C and B2B organizations to launch and operate an online marketplace.

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