Online is moving in-store

10 February 2014
Dharmendra Patel
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With the relentless rise of online shopping, experts had predicted that the bricks and mortar store was becoming ineffective and would eventually have no use in our high streets. However, disproving this theory, a recent study from The Royal Mail shows that 16 percent of online retailers are expecting to open bricks and mortar stores this year.

Kate Spade NYC

What we’ve started to see are pure play retailers, like eBay and Amazon, establishing a physical presence, in a bid to offer an integrated customer shopping experience – highlighting an existing need for bricks and mortar stores.

With consumers now using multiple channels to shop – researching in one and purchasing in another – their expectations of retailers has matured, and the gap between online and in-store has faded from their minds. Rather than having to choose between channels, consumers now count on flawless, joined up shopping experiences.

In September last year eBay announced a Click & Collect tie-up with Argos. The partnership allows shoppers to purchase with 50 of eBay’s merchants, and collect their orders from a choice of over 150 Argos stores nationwide. By introducing a physical strand, eBay has adapted to meet the developing needs of its customers.

 There will always be an unrivalled level of confidence consumers get from holding something in their hands but the bricks and mortar store is more than just a point from which to pick up online orders.

Every retailer’s aim is to sell products but their ultimate, long term, goal is to encourage repeat visits by building brand affinity. A physical store offers brands the chance to engage further with shoppers, and create shopping experiences that leave a lasting impression. By providing a remarkable customer experience, retailers can connect with consumers on a deeper, more meaningful level, and this is what keeps them coming back.

Online stores naturally lend themselves to a more visually enticing and interactive environment – technology plays a large role in bringing sites to life, and smart personalisation tools allow shoppers to feel as though the store has been created just for them.

The key challenge for online retailers is that their customers have become accustomed to shopping with them in highly interactive environments, enriched by technology (and their expectations are therefore increased). For that reason, when moving in-store, retailers must ensure they don’t dilute the customer shopping experience with a stale and static setting.

What this means is that online retailers have to embrace technology more aggressively and ensure that their existing assets are utilized – ultimately they need to replicate their online experience in-store, so it maintains its preeminence and still offers a stimulating experience.

 Bricks and mortar retailers employ decoration and products to enhance the store setting, whereas online retailers tend to rely heavily on visual content – and this is key to reproducing an online experience in-store.

US womenswear label Kate Spade collaborated with eBay in a month-long campaign that saw the retailer bring online shopping into the physical world. The retailer’s younger sister brand, Kate Spade Saturday, which at the time had no physical presence, launched 24-hour window shops in four locations throughout New York. The interactive storefronts allowed shoppers to order all items available online from a large touchscreen. Consumers were able to schedule a free one-hour delivery slot and receive their goods 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

The storefront was primarily designed to act as a physical version of its online store. From a customer’s perspective, they need the right products at the right time across the right platform. The Kate Spade Saturday venture successfully met all of those requirements because a centralized CMS was in place to streamline products, orders and inventory.

Having different products, pricing and promotions in-store and online indicates that the channels are competitors, and consumers are forced to pick which channel to shop with. On the other hand, if a retailer provides the same service across all channels, shoppers are offered a seamless experience (whether shopping online or in-store).

Consumers are increasingly using different platforms to shop, with some combining multiple channels at any one time. While this can pose complex issues when extracting data, if one CMS is in place it’s easier to structure information and build a clear picture of individual shoppers and their behaviour across different channels. This makes the retailer’s assets more valuable and ensures they’re not duplicating information, which can weaken the data’s strength.

Buzzwords, such as e-commerce and m-commerce, have been coined to distinguish different shopping channels. But as brands take more of an omni-channel approach, these phrases will be replaced by one word: commerce.

When moving in-store, online retailers must ensure that their main focus is brand building and allowing shoppers to engage with them further. Online retailers already have the content and infrastructure in place to produce a strong in-store experience. What they need to guarantee is that their systems are integrated so that the online and offline boundaries are blurred and shoppers are free to purchase however they choose.