Last Saturday morning as I was making a second latte (and trying to resist a second croissant), I noticed my teenaged son using his iPad to shop for track pants, while periodically glancing at the Discovery Channel on TV. When I asked which pants he liked, he said, “I haven’t decided yet.” So when I saw that his chosen online retailer also had a store nearby, I suggested that he go down to the mall. His reply was telling: “Why would I do that?” he asked.
The Demise of the Physical Store?
My son is far from the only person I know who now prefers to shop online. Many consumers want to find and order what they want from the comfort of wherever they happen to be—and whatever else they happen to be doing.
But few are doing this exclusively. The 2016 PWC Total Retail Survey found that while most shoppers now prefer to research online, the store still dominates as the point of purchase in almost all categories.
My personal observations seem to back this up. When I visit the mall these days, I don’t enter a wasteland of vacant storefronts and empty shops. In fact, those stores are filled with people wanting to see and try before they buy. So while studies show that online spending is trending up and store traffic is trending down, it’s clear that many people still want to shop in the “real world,” even when they also make full use of their growing online options.
Shoppers Want it All — and Retailers Must Respond
The question for retailers is how to manage those trends to ensure their stores remain relevant and productive in our omni-channel world–a world in which, as shoppers, we essentially want it all. We want the “click and control” conveniences of online shopping and the tangible satisfaction of getting “up close and personal” with our desired products, plus the assistance of knowledgeable staff. We also want the flexibility to receive (or return) those products however or wherever we choose.
While studies show that online spending is trending up and store traffic is trending down, it’s clear that people still very much want to shop in the “real world.”
The short answer is that retailers must now adapt and position their physical stores within the continuum of the omnichannel experience. Stores must be equipped to serve not only as traditional product showcases but also as fulfillment centers, enterprise selling hubs and points of online access.
All of this has ushered in the era of the hybrid store that integrates physical and digital shopping environments. It’s a store that will give your customers fluid, fast access to your entire enterprise and inventory. A store that offers them highly personalized content that reflects their unique shopping behaviors, as profiled and analyzed over time through all channels and served through targeted offers, product recommendations, store tips and more. In essence, it’s a store that combines many of the advantages of eCommerce with the kind of rich, sensory product and brand experiences that can’t be duplicated online.
Stores must be equipped to serve not only as traditional product showcases but also as fulfillment centers, enterprise selling hubs and points of online access.
This may seem like a radical transformation, but it has become an essential transformation. What’s more, the technology required to make it happen is available here and now. It calls for a singular commerce platform supporting solutions that function holistically across channels, including CRM, enterprise order management, merchandising and analytics, and even POS with logic that extends online to ensure efficient, consistent transactions. These types of solutions enable you to unify and enrich your customers’ shopping experiences while greatly improving your management and performance of integrated customer engagement, inventory and selling operations.
This report in Apparel magazine tells you more about the convergence of digital and physical stores and how to proceed. You can also download our eBook on Engaging Customers Differently and review our singular commerce blog.
The Future is Bright
Compared with what retailing looked and functioned like even ten years ago, we are indeed rushing into a brave new world. But unlike the one in Aldous Huxley’s vision, it’s a world to be embraced, not feared. As noted in last year’s PWC Total Retail survey, “Tailoring to the digital age, the role of the store will continue to evolve into something more connected, more customized, and increasingly attuned to shoppers’ expectations of what the in-store, online and mobile experience should be.”
Meeting those expectations has nothing to do with succumbing to the ‘oppression’ of consumer demands; it’s all about expanding your business opportunities and continuing to drive growth. As always, Aptos stands ready to help.
Nathalie Belanger is VP of Customer Engagement Solutions, Aptos.