Posted on May 07, 2021
As we emerge from the pandemic, how can businesses thrive in-store and online?
The recent surge in ecommerce has been undeniable, and businesses that lack online consideration are often faced with their own demise; Debenhams and Topshop being the most recent examples of this.
However, with technological giants such as Amazon making innovative steps within the industry, there is a hint of uncertainty towards a complete digital switchover.
Multi-channels are the next most logical step, allowing businesses to boost their prospects by enhancing their physical and online presence, combining both markets to create a seamless customer experience.
The increasing excitement for in-store experiences
While it was perceived that the pandemic was leading us closer to a digital utopia, particularly with the closing of non-essential shops, a boost in remote working and online social gatherings, both businesses and consumers are hesitant for things to completely transform.
A clear example of this, is the excitement that was displayed for the reopening of stores in April. Marking the first time this year non-essential stores could allow customers inside, there was a clear demand to be able to browse and purchase items in the traditional bricks and mortar setting.
From the first day of restrictions being eased, stores of all kinds were faced with large queues, clearly demonstrating the desire for physical brand offerings. Primark, known for its strictly-bricks and mortar model, was one of the most popular among consumers, with many people lining up outside hours before the store was due to open.
While a lot of this excitement could be attributed to the pent-up frustration felt by isolated consumers, who were desperate to enjoy some recreational activities outside the four walls of their homes, there is an undeniable sense of trust, comfort and convenience that is provided by the in-store experience – something that ecommerce and digital channels are yet to master.
However, when returning to high streets and shopping centres, consumers will likely be faced with an unrecognisable physical landscape, with several empty units taking the place of once flagship stores and iconic brands.
A changing physical landscape
For many brands that were slow or reluctant to adapt to the transforming digital landscape, the pandemic acted as a tipping point. Examples of this include Debenhams and other businesses operating under the Arcadia Group.
While some of these brands were already struggling far before the Covid-19 lockdown, mostly due to intense online competition, enforced store closures drove once-loyal customers to shop with those businesses that had perfected their online store experience as there was no longer a physical alternative.
Provided with no other options, the enhanced digital experience and seamless transactions from trusted online brands soon outweighed any incentives to remain loyal to those that originally favoured the in-store offering.
The two channels couldn’t be any more different, and it’s clear that simply having a presence in both online and offline markets is not enough.
While we wave goodbye to bricks and mortar stores that have been favoured by many consumers for years, we recognise the new wave of brands to the high street, as well as new shopping experiences, suggesting it isn’t over for bricks and mortar stores just yet.
Perhaps one of the most notable additions to the high street lately is Amazon Fresh, with their first store opening in Ealing, London. A unique store concept of till-less shopping, it aims to disrupt traditional grocery shopping by streamlining the experience and removing any friction, allowing consumers to get their groceries in the most convenient way.
It works by utilising hundreds of cameras, depth sensors and AI to recognise and monitor items customers pick up and replace. When entering the store, customers scan a barcode that can be found on their Amazon Shopping app, and upon leaving, their accounts will be automatically charged with the sum of their shopping.
Despite their continued growth with their online financial performance, Amazon’s move into physical retail demonstrates their understanding of creating a model that compromises both online and offline contacts, which is particularly important as the behaviours and sentiments of consumers are changing because of the pandemic.
Digital-led bricks and mortar
During lockdown restrictions, digital offerings have acted as a lifeline for both businesses and consumers. However, it remains that there are certain items that customers will always prefer to purchase in-store, with clothing and groceries being two of the biggest categories.
With grocery shopping, in-store remains the most convenient ways to get the items you need, and digital is yet to find a better way to advise customers on the size, fit and feel of garments online. The only way around this is to place an order and return items you are not satisfied with, which Amazon is quickly realising comes at a financial and environmental cost.
A physical store provides a way to combat these issues until a digital solution is established. Amazon Fresh provides a fast and seamless way to shop for essential items, and even features a station that allows online orders to be picked up and returned, which minimises the need for delivery to multiple addresses and the damage to the planet as a result of these round return trips.
As we go forward, this is exactly what we can expect the future of retail to look like. Rather than dismissing any physical presence, technology and digital software must be integrated into in-store offerings to reduce the pain points of either channel.
It’s common to see many multichannel retailers offering a similar click and collect service, helping to merge customer experiences across channels and provide a seamless and convenient process. While Amazon Fresh acts as a completely unique concept, we can acknowledge other brands make similar moves in the future, with the likes of Scan and Go services, as well as self-checkouts.
By remaining open-minded to change, and both embracing and leveraging the technology available, brands can quickly make the most of their multi-channel models, ensuring online and offline routes are harmoniously combined to boost business prospects, create greater presence, and provide frictionless processes for an overall better buying experience for customers.
For more information on how you can elevate your online presence, contact the team at Diginius today.