Guest Column | July 1, 2022

Physical And Digital Retail Converge For A Better Customer Experience

By Zohar Gilad, Fast Simon


The global pandemic has transformed retail. Pre-pandemic, eCommerce was booming, accelerated by the convenience of two-day shipping and fingertip access to anything the buyer desired. Two years later, as the in-person stores open up, brick-and-mortar retail is gaining favor again. The U.S. Commerce Department found that in-person shopping had increased by 22% since early 2022.

The new retail formula that marries digital and physical has resulted in an unprecedented customer experience. While consumers are drawn back to stores, the driving force is integrating tech-savvy digital tools and partnerships to revitalize in-person shopping.

Below are ways the great union of physical and digital has and will continue to transform the customer experience.

Tech Improves The Customer Experience

Shopping has never been smarter. Due to supply chain disruption, inventory is unpredictable, and customers want to check if something will be in-store before taking a trip to the store. AI-driven inventory management is more accurate at identifying available merchandise than a shopper hoping a store might have the item in stock. Removing inconvenience makes the experience faster and encourages the customer to return.

While the customer is browsing through the brand's eCommerce app or website, AI also can show merchant-recommended products based on data like shopping history or related items. The demand for immediate merchandise access is stronger than ever. Fortunately, technology meets this demand by allowing customers to buy online and pick up in-store (BOPIS).

Unlikely Partners Make For Great Experiences

Several major retailers looked to be shutting their doors in the past five years, but stores that switched to digital-only have reemerged with a physical presence thanks to new partnerships. Larger stores have made space for primarily eCommerce and specialty stores.

Examples include Sephora stores popping up in Kohl’s and Ulta and the Disney Store reemerging in Target. Toys “R” Us, which shuttered all physical locations, announced shop-in-shops at Macy’s. These unlikely physical store alliances enhance the customer experience for digital eCommerce stores by drawing in a new set of buyers.

The Power Of The Physical Touch

Currently, shopping online is limited by our inability to touch, taste, or smell virtual products. For online-exclusive brands, emerging with a physical presence could be an excellent strategy for boosting the customer experience.

Some items are more difficult to purchase online than others. Take the perfume industry, for example. An eCommerce store can suggest fragrances based on likes and previous purchases, but the buyer can’t smell the perfume to decide. In this case, retailers can offer exclusive in-person product preview events, such as fragrance-testing or food-tasting sessions. Pop-up stores create buzz around the brand, allow in-person feedback, and increase customer engagement.

The Best Of Both Worlds

If the past three years have shown us anything, necessity is the mother of innovation. As shopping preferences have changed, the retail industry has expanded its core competencies and applied new technologies and methods. The hybrid model of integrating the physical and digital worlds is emerging as the retail industry’s next phase to meet the service and convenience that shoppers demand. With the tools we have at hand, retailers are attuned to adapting and capitalizing on industry shifts to stay resilient and ensure a sustainable paradigm for business in the coming years.

About The Author

Zohar Gilad is an experienced technology entrepreneur and executive. In 2013, he cofounded Fast Simon, Inc. (formerly InstantSearch+), leveraging his experience to bring state-of-the-art site search to millions of publishers and e-tailers at an affordable cost. Throughout his career, Gilad has been the driving force behind over 20 software products that have since been used by millions of users worldwide.