By Ivan Kot, Itransition
Brick-and-mortar stores had been experiencing steadily declining footfall even before the pandemic, but numerous lockdowns and the general fear of going out held customers back from visiting stores while pushing them online even more, making eCommerce skyrocket in 2020. According to eMarketer’s research, eCommerce sales grew by 33.5% in 2020 compared to 2019 and will grow from this high base by 13.7% in 2021. Meanwhile, brick-and-mortar retail fell by 0.2% in 2020 (the first time since the Great Recession!) and is promised to grow by 2.2% in 2021 compared to 2019.
Unfortunately, many retail businesses went bankrupt in 2020. Those who survived and continued working during disruption diversified into online outlets, calling on specialized technologies such as eCommerce SaaS platforms, retail CRM software, and others. As a result, the fine line between retail and eCommerce is getting blurry as many of their functions are overlapping and complementing each other. Having this in mind, we will try to understand why customers choose to shop online or offline and how retail tech bridges the gap between these two domains.
Why Customers Choose Online Shopping
When online shopping isn’t a necessity, people choose it for mere convenience. They can shop round the clock without leaving their houses, consider all available options and compare prices, and get their order delivered to any address.
All in all, online shopping offers much broader possibilities than traditional retail. Even the biggest stores with the largest selection of items have limited stock that can never be compared to online marketplaces’ scope — it’s thousands versus millions. All you need to do when online is use some keywords and filter by desired parameters.
Plus, online shops can offer lower prices due to cost reduction associated with no need to maintain physical outlets and pay rent. Additionally, online shops use several marketing techniques, like promos, discounted prices, secret offers, or loyalty perks, that create a feeling that you’re going to get a bargain.
So, what is it that still entices customers in offline shopping?
Why Customers Choose Offline Shopping
No image or video (even with AR or VR extensions) can compare to the ability to see, touch, and try on at a brick-and-mortar store. Offline shopping means fewer returns frequent with online purchases. At the same time, it means a stronger gratification effect as buyers instantly get something they want and like—as compared to online shopping where you need to wait for your purchase, with no 100% assurance that it’s something you wanted.
Furthermore, if brick-and-mortar customers have second thoughts later and decide to return an item, they don’t have to engage in cumbersome return shipping. All they need to do is come to a shop and get instant money compensation (and even select something more fitting during the same visit).
Offline shopping is also a go-to option for those who prefer on-site consultations and recommendations before making a purchasing decision. Or for those who treat shopping as a social event that can be shared with a friend or where it’s possible to talk to familiar shop assistants and enjoy that they remember your preferences.
How Retail Tech Connects Online And Offline Shopping
Fragmented customer journeys are a challenge for both eCommerce and traditional retail players, but they are also responsible for merging the physical and the digital — customers can research online shops to inform their in-store purchasing and check out products in-store to purchase them online later.
The best thing online and offline commerce can do in such a situation is not to operate in opposition to each other. Instead, they should use retail technologies to merge the best of online and offline shopping and offer customers seamless and unified experiences where their journey is consistent and uninterrupted.
If you’re a brick-and-mortar store owner, let your customers experience the convenience of digital purchasing:
- Build a website or create a social media account that will serve as a storefront for your shop, where customers can see your entire inventory, read descriptions, compare prices, see the item’s photos tagged by other customers, and ask questions.
- Use your POS software to log purchasing history necessary for smart inventory replenishment and experience personalization.
- Build a mobile app and turn it into the key enabler of great in-store experiences: connect it with your loyalty program, turn it into a scanner to let customers learn more about your products while in-store (by showing descriptions, ingredients, reviews, storage and use instructions, and best-match recommendations), connect it with beacons and sensors for useful push notifications, and more.
- Empower your employees with the full product information so that they don't feel that they know less than the customers and thus have no chance of earning their trust.
- Let your customers place orders via their preferred channels and enable various delivery options, like BOPIS, curbside delivery, and more.
Finally, use a retail-focused CRM system to connect all your channels, accumulate multi-channel customer data, and use data-rich customer profiles to deliver personalized experiences that are not limited to in-store visits but extend to all channels, be it email, social media, or a mobile app.
If you're a digital-first retailer, you can use brick-and-mortar locations as a part of your distribution network. For instance, you can use physical locations as return points to spare customers the need for return shipping, open pop-up stores to present new collections, or turn brick-and-mortar stores into marketing hubs used for showrooming purposes or as experience centers where customers can try or lend your products, run masterclasses with the possibility to purchase what they like, and more.
Ecommerce and retail are not two separate domains anymore — borderlines between them are getting blurry as customers enjoy different aspects of both online and offline shopping. To make the customer journey truly seamless and provide convenience and comfort every buyer can appreciate, retail technologies can turn brick-and-mortar and eCommerce into a happy and sustainable union.
About The Author
Ivan Kot is Customer Acquisition Director at Itransition, focusing on business development in verticals such as eCommerce, Business Automation, and cutting-edge tools such as blockchain for enterprises. He began his career as a developer, taking different positions in both web and mobile development projects, and eventually shifted focus to project management and team coordination.