by Sam Kotler | December 19, 2014
Technology has transformed the relationship between consumers and retailers and has expanded the channels through which retailers interact with consumers. Many retailers have adapted in order to blur the divide between e-commerce and the in-store experience in an attempt to integrate the two and create a seamless experience. E-commerce websites are trying to simulate an in-store experience through interactive product displays, product personalization, enhanced product views, and a user interface that is both intuitive and easy to navigate.
These “omniconsumers” are shopping on multiple devices and channels; while a user may begin researching products on their computer, they may switch to their iPad to compare, locate the store using their iPhone, use discount coupons off that phone and even complete the purchase using a mobile device (via mobile wallets, such as Apple Pay or Google Wallet).
E-commerce websites have done a fantastic job of simulating the in-store experience as much as possible. Apparel sites, for example, gather information about your measurements and suggest sizes relative to each brand based on your supplied information; some sites even include customer photos so you can see what it looks like on someone with similar measurements. While many customers are browsing on these online channels, most consumers are still making their purchases in-store. Mobile and online shopping complements in-store experiences, rather than compete with it.
Malls have evolved into destinations with much more than just basic retail offerings. Developers are including chef-driven concepts and high profile local restaurateurs in an attempt to offer people an experience that cannot be replaced with e-commerce: dining and entertainment and hospitality. People are going to continue to dine out, and if they can entice customers to the mall for the food, they are hopeful they can make them stay and shop.
78% of consumers “prefer” to shop in-store and spend six times more in-store than online (source: ICSC). The 2013 US Census Bureau reported that 94% of retail sales were conducted in brick-and-mortar stores, leaving a mere 6% to online transactions, thus confirming that customers still prefer the in-store experience. A poll conducted by Accenture reported that 65% of consumers said they would “browse” purchases online, but would prefer to ultimately buy it in person. Browsing online is much like making a shopping list: you can survey the items and put together a potential list online, but customers still want to feel the fabric themselves, try the items out in person and then make an informed decision. Many retailers even offer flexible pick-up and return options at physical stores, such as Nordstrom, Best Buy, Apple and Target which offer in-store pick-up.
Most Apple customers will order products online, or using the Apple Store App, yet will not make the trip to the store to wait for the products. With online ordering you can avoid the hassle of waiting and receive a notification when your item is ready to be picked up. And sure, you can get your products shipped to your house, but a website or an app can never compete with the customer service of Apple’s Genius Bar.
Customer service is another aspect that has improved with online presence… Stores are using wifi and adopting technologies, such as apps that help improve the customer’s in store experience. Wegmans, for example, has an app that allows you to choose your store location, build a grocery list, and it tells you in which aisle to find each item, saving the customer time.
LiketoKnow.it is a site that allows customers to shop from their instragram accounts and answers the questions fashion bloggers have long been fielding in comments: Where can I buy this? How much does this cost? Users can “like” a picture and receive an email with a list of the items worn in the picture, including link to buy them. Retailers are using customer-generated content to engage their customers.
The omni-channel retail strategies are meant to supplement, rather than replace in-store shopping, and research shows they are doing just that as retailers have adapted in order to integrate the online experience with in-store. Companies such as Bonobos and Uniqlo have incredibly inviting user interfaces, making online browsing very enjoyable. Some e-commerce companies, such as Zappos and Amazon, have mastered their online presence and are now eager to try their hand at brick and mortar, following the footsteps of fellow e-commerce shops Birchbox and Piperlime. There is something to be said about the power of e-commerce as a tool for understanding the customer. Companies can learn a lot about their customers online; technology and social media has allowed customers to give real-time feedback and offered companies a chance to address customers’ concerns and comments.