Our CEO & Founder Luigi Matrone offers brands and retailers a look at what successful shopping experiences will look like in ‘the New Normal’.
Preparing for the New Normal
eCommerce was already sharply on the rise before the global COVID-19 crisis – and its popularity has skyrocketed during lockdown.
My prediction at the beginning of lockdown was that online shopping behaviours developed during quarantine will solidify, resulting in greater numbers of consumers becoming more willing to regularly buy products online in the long-term. And I stand by that prediction.
So, is physical shopping dead?
There will still be plenty of appetite for physical shopping in the New Normal.
The challenge for brands and retailers will be to create Omnichannel strategies and approaches with eCommerce at their heart that seamlessly blend digital and physical to create outstanding customer experiences (CX).
Fierce competition as brands strengthen their digital presence
Forward-thinking brands have seen the new online shopping phenomenon that has emerged during quarantine as an opportunity to increase market share and digital share of voice.
These brands have strengthened their online presence by investing in digital activations such as Retail Search, Product eContent that entices shoppers and Retail Digital Media (RDM) that captures consumers at the point in their journey when they are most likely to buy.
Premium fruit juice brand Frobisher’s, for instance, swiftly pivoted their business to sell direct to consumers via Amazon when it realised that its main customer base – bars, cafes and restaurants – would have to close during lockdown. And Frobisher’s have reaped the rewards for their bold digital approach.
The smartest and best-prepared brands have used tools like Big Data & AI to track consumer trends and behaviours that allow them to see who is buying what and when. And these rich insights have helped inform strategy and tactics when it comes to managing the supply chain or increasing the effectiveness of digital activities.
Brands will have greater opportunities to reach new customers online than ever before. Online shopping behaviours formed during lockdown will set in. Brands with strong data cultures will be able to tap into incredibly rich seams of insights about consumers.
But, while that’s an opportunity for brands, it also means that competition will intensify. Your competitors will be investing heavily in strengthening their digital presence and creating experiences that attract more customers – your customers, potentially.
It’s vital that you don’t get left behind, and that you instead improve customer experiences, Product eContent, service and your overall digital offering.
And, if you’re not a wholly online retailer, you need to greatly elevate the in-store experience by leveraging digital tools or approaches.
Blending digital and physical to thrive during lockdown
Sustainable footwear brand Allbirds launched a store on Alibaba’s Tmall last year – before the world came to know about what has become the global COVID-19 pandemic.
Allbirds had been operating with an approach that seamlessly blended offline and online sales. And this integrated operational infrastructure proved to be a lifeline during lockdown.
When Covid-19 disrupted offline traffic and activities, Allbirds were able to use staff from brick-and-mortar stores to fulfill online orders. This swift offline-to-online pivot was possible because the brand’s eCommerce and physical stores had unified inventory and logistics operations.
As a result, the brand has not experienced an interruption in meeting consumer demand during lockdown.
And Allbirds have been brave. They also took the pandemic as an opportunity to innovate with new digital tools.
For instance, they launched a feature that enables Tmall shoppers to connect with store staff via video chat, enabling customers to ask questions and see product displays as if they were at a physical store. This has proven to be such a popular feature with customers during lockdown that Allbirds are exploring ways to preserve it post-lockdown.
What can physical experiences offer that digital can’t?
The benefits of online shopping experience during lockdown – such as convenience, ‘shop anywhere anytime’ and product search, to name but a few – have thrown the limitations of physical shopping into stark relief.
But champions of physical retailing shouldn’t lose heart. People that have been stuck inside for ages will be desperate to get out and hit the shops.
Physical retailers should be thinking imaginatively, along the lines of “What can physical stores do or offer that the online shopping experience can’t?”.
Superior service, for instance. In-store events or promotions. And many people will still be far more comfortable going into physical locations to buy expensive luxury items like new sofas, cars, tailored clothes or even electronics than they will be buying them online.
Selfridges, for instance, will be offering a mix of virtual shopping experiences and live entertainment. Shoppers will enjoy product launches, live entertainers and DJs while queueing. It’s a great way to attract people back into the store as lockdown measures begin to ease.
The omnichannel opportunity
But how can brands and retailers go one further?
How can they use digital content or experiences to elevate physical shopping experiences that create loyalty and circular journeys?
I’ve outlined some great strategies below:
- Use the power of mobile in-store
Around 63 percent of consumers rely on their mobile devices while shopping in-store. They’re comparing prices, searching for discounts and online coupons, checking to make sure items are in stock, looking at recipes, outfits and much more.
So, if brands or retailers don’t offer mobile point-of-sale capabilities in their stores, they’re missing out on potential sales.
And customers aren’t the only skilled mobile users. Mobile devices can become powerful selling tools in the hands of staff with the right capabilities. Brands should be empowering their staff to use mobile devices to help customers on the sales floor – whether to look up inventory data or product information or offer a great customer experience.
- Enhanced click and collect
Give customers the option to buy products online and pick them up in your store. Remove the pain of queuing that puts some people off going into physical stores. Draw consumers into your brick-and-mortar space. Give them opportunities to engage with your brand when they get there.
There has been a 248 percent increase in ‘Buy online, pick up in store’ during lockdown, as the popularity of this omnichannel experience surges. So, think about what great new options you can offer your customers.
- Create an interactive experience
Retailers must enable shoppers to experience products in ways they can’t while browsing at home.
Today’s brands and retailers can use the power of Artificial Intelligence, Virtual Reality and IoT to deliver a seamless, singular experience. They can leverage these emerging technologies in a smart way to elevate the in-store experience.
If you can make the in-store experience meaningful and memorable, you can turn buyers into loyal customers.
Gap and TopShop are just some of the retailers offering digital ‘memory mirrors’ in dressing rooms that allow shoppers to record themselves trying on clothes and see new looks from all angles. They also make clips shareable, so that shoppers can ask advice from friends without ever leaving the dressing room.
The likes of Nike, Converse and Lacoste, meanwhile, have all been investing heavily in Augmented Reality-driven mobile apps that let users virtually try on new shoes or clothes using digital displays in brick-and-mortar locations.
- Use data to personalise the in-store experiences
Data gives companies a better idea of who their customers are and how they like to shop.
Online storefronts use customer behaviour data to feed machine-learning algorithms that power recommendation engines, ad-delivery platforms and other selling mechanisms.
Brick-and-mortar retailers can benefit from this data, too, using in-store digital POS that enables them to collect and store customer information.
When shoppers go to the till to make their purchase, staff can ask questions that help them build a shopper dossier or profile. This data can be used to inform future offers, coupons, sales, in-store events, inventory changes and more that will fit that customer’s profile.
Much as the future is hard to predict, it’s clear that online shopping will continue to grow at the expense of ill-prepared physical retailers.
But the high street is far from finished.
As we come out of lockdown, people will be craving the society of other people and physical experiences. There is a great opportunity to revive physical shopping by using digital activations to create incredible customer experiences (CX).
My team and I have considerable experience in helping brands create strategies and develop approaches that seamlessly blend digital and physical retail to create omnichannel shopping experiences that drive sales and customer loyalty. Please contact us if you’d like us to help you with your organisation’s omnichannel strategy.
This article was created and written by Luigi Matrone – CEO & Founder of the eBusiness Institute.
Would you like to benefit from eBusiness Institute’s expertise?
eBusiness Institute focuses on the integration between marketing and sales to drive business results online and offline.
Our team has considerable experience and expertise in successfully delivering strategies, capability building and creative assets for brands that understand the importance of Digital Transformation, Product eContent, Data & Analytics, Retail Search and Retail Digital Media (RDM) to eCommerce sales success.
Please contact us if you would like to learn more about how the eBusiness Institute could help your organisation gain a competitive edge through these activities.