There are many things in life that require an "either/or" attitude. Luckily, choosing between operating a physical location and an eCommerce site isn't (and shouldn't) be one of them! This excerpt, from an article on Retail Customer Experience, explains why you should focus on both — and even bring some of the best parts about online shopping into your brick-and-mortar store.
Before we even set foot in a store, we can research stores, products, reviews, ratings, prices, inventory, and specs online. We can even access this data on our phones, sometimes when we’re actually shopping inside a store. And our options for “where” to buy from are as vast as ever – with multiple stores, websites and even apps at our fingertips.
But in spite of all this choice and consumer empowerment, the physical store isn’t going anywhere. According to a 2014 Capgemini study, the majority of shoppers’ first choice is traditional in-store experiences (72 percent), followed by retailers’ websites (67 percent). The difference may seem marginal, but e-commerce still only accounts for 7 percent of U.S. retail sales. Ecommerce’s share of total retail continues to grow at a rate of about 1 percent per year, but one thing is certain: Websites will never completely replace stores.
There will always be a human desire to see and touch things in person before buying them. Clothing and shoes require you to try them on. There is also a distinctive brand connection shoppers can only experience in physical stores – previously pure play e-tailers know this and have opened stores, pop-ups and even trucks to reach consumers, with more planned in the future.
So which online experiences do consumers want extended to the stores they shop in?
One thing e-commerce has revolutionized for the consumer is inventory visibility. As a result, consumers now expect to “see” if a local store has a desired item in-stock before they visit the store. Recent L2 research identifies in-store availability as “the most important omnichannel retail capability” among U.S. digital shoppers. L2 cites Home Depot as a leader in this regard – its e-commerce site allows customers to filter products based on what’s available at their local store.
App and loyalty integration
Omnichannel consistency is something consumers are beginning to expect more and more, particularly in terms of how they regularly connect with a brand. Whether purchases are made in-store, via mobile app, or online, the customer should receive loyalty points, personalized product recommendations, local sales/promotional information, etc. in a consistent way. All of these measures are of course great ways to drive foot traffic to a nearby store location as well.
Online/In-store community building
Mobile phones and social media have transformed modern tastemaking and community building (think Instagram and Pinterest) – and it only makes sense for retailers to capitalize on this opportunity with local stores. One example that jumps out to me is J. Crew, which invited fans and local fashion bloggers into retail locations, offering sneak peeks at new collections and styling tips from J. Crew stylists. Customers were encouraged to snap selfies to post on social media using the hashtag #JCrewStyleSessions for a chance to be featured in upcoming style guides, all the while helping promote the brand online to onlookers and other fans.
In conclusion, in-store and eCommerce needn’t compete against each other. The store isn’t going anywhere. The question retailers must ask themselves today is: How can we combine the best of online and in-store to deliver the best possible customer experiences?