The Future of Retail is Dropping the ‘E’ in eCommerce

By: Michael Osborne, President, Wunderkind

The line between eCommerce and traditional commerce is becoming even more blurry. It’s also undoubtedly true that physical stores — formerly the primary way for brands to draw-in and delight customers — are no longer the money spinner they once were.

Increasingly, bricks and mortar outlets are being used to support and supplement shopping, giving consumers the chance to touch products in real life that, very often, they’ll end up purchasing digitally.

But that’s not to say in-person shopping is dead. Even if individual outlets aren’t generating stacks of cash, they still have a huge role to play in terms of building brand loyalty, creating 1:1 connections with customers, driving overall sales, and generating awareness.

It is, therefore, time for brands to stop thinking of digital and physical shopping as two separate entities. Both have a valid and necessary place in this new era of shopping, and retailers need to understand how to use these different but complementary channels effectively and amicably.

Embrace the Hybrid Shopping Experience

Did you know that 43% of consumers use smartphones during their in-store shopping trips? There’s a growing trend of shoppers visiting stores to assess products, then using their mobile device to compare prices and, ultimately, add items to their basket. Shoppers aren’t choosing one or the other – they’re combining the digital and the physical to ensure they get the best deal — and experience — possible.

It makes sense, therefore, that the brands willing to offer consumers the flexibility to carry over their online shopping behavior can expect to see returns faster than retailers who avoid digitization in-store. If the end result is that the consumer commits to a purchase, regardless of whether it’s in-store or online, this is surely something all retailers should be paying attention to.

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Digital Profiles

59% of merchants allow shoppers to create digital profiles that can be accessed across digital channels. This makes it easier for companies to not only own consumer data before turning to rented data (Google, FB Ads, etc.) but also means they have the capacity to analyze shopping habits and then use that data to personalize — and ultimately improve — the connection between brand and consumer, no matter the route used to make the purchase.

Personalization has a massive impact on how consumers view brands. It’s something they like, and increasingly, it’s something they expect. In fact,  80% of shoppers are more likely to buy from a brand that provides personalized experiences, while 71% admit to feeling frustrated when their shopping experience is impersonal.

What’s more, two-thirds of shoppers (66%) say they now fully expect the companies they interact with to be aware of their needs, which goes a long way to showing not only personalization’s importance, but highlights how its absence can  be detrimental.

Brands need to be doing all they can to give the customer a seamless, personalized and beneficial shopping experience, and that means catering to their wants both online and in-store.

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Augmented Reality

Augmented Reality (AR) is increasingly being used by brands to interact with consumers on mobile devices and in the real world. It’s immersive and memorable, and can expand not only a brand’s marketing potential, but also the consumer’s ability to interact with and understand products.

One of AR’s core benefits is that it can significantly reduce the amount of time needed to buy, and if necessary, return an item. Think about it; instead of purchasing a product, taking it home, trying it out and then realizing it’s not a great fit, AR gives customers the opportunity to live the same experience either in-store or at home.

Some retailers are still guilty of regarding AR as a bit of a gimmick, but it’s far more than just a cool shopping add-on. AR has the ability to save people time and minimize their levels of frustration; it’s a savvy shopping enhancement, and it’s only a matter of time before it’s ubiquitous.

AI-driven Predictive Behavior

By harnessing Artificial Intelligence (AI), retailers can leverage a shopper’s buying history, serve up specific items that they’re pretty much guaranteed to be interested in, and can even go as far as offering similar products based on seasonality and average purchase price. Adding AI to in-store processes can help incentivize and keep a customer browsing for longer, satisfying their needs and keeping them curious.

Without AI, personalization at scale really isn’t possible; it’s integral to acknowledging shoppers’ behaviors, their likes and dislikes, and their buying habits. Without obtaining and harnessing data effectively, brands will struggle to offer the AI-driven experiences that consumers are becoming accustomed to.

With data-supported AI, the possibilities for retailers are extensive. From sending personalized content at a time when consumers are most likely to be receptive to it, to issuing updates when a long-desired product is back in stock, either in-store or online, AI is central to providing the shopping experiences of tomorrow, today.

Technologies that have traditionally been seen as online-centric, and approaches that are largely associated with in-store shopping, are merging. Online and in-store shopping are, unquestionably, unique channels with their own charms and benefits, but that doesn’t mean they can’t work in harmony. Digital and physical aren’t competitors; they both have strengths, advantages and appeal, and by creating an ecosystem that allows them to work in sync, retailers and consumers stand to benefit.

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