While brick-and-mortar experiences still largely dominate the retail space, there’s no denying the power of e-commerce. In fact, every year, online shopping grows more and more popular, inching ever closer to the market share of in-store experiences.
Brick-and-mortar might still make up for 90 percent of all retail sales, but people love shopping online. Even better, they love when those two channels are merged. The ability to buy products online and pick up in-store is incredibly alluring, along with any other similar scenarios, like buying in-store and having items shipped to a home address.
The question is, how do you merge these two conventionally separate experiences for your customers? How do you deliver the best of both worlds, but in ways that satisfy everyone involved?
Data Provides the Foundation
Before you do anything, you must establish a robust and reliable data processing system. You will never know how best to serve your shoppers if you don’t have the insights to support future campaigns. How do customers use your products? How do they use your online channels, website and experiences? Where can you improve and what are you missing?
Data essentially provides the foundation for all insight-based decisions and actions. The merger between physical in-store and digital online experiences is definitely something that requires greater insight. You need to be sure you’re building the right kinds of interactivities – specifically, those your shoppers and customers are going to enjoy and take advantage of.
Consider the “buy online, pick up in-store” strategy used by most retailers. In general, it may seem that most shoppers truly enjoy this type of experience. But that may not be true, and it certainly may not be true of your particular audience. Establishing the entire system without ever understanding what your shoppers want can be disastrous, and it can waste resources.
Make sure you have the information to back up any decisions or changes.
Upgrade Existing Solutions
To start, you’ll want to focus on simply upgrading the existing services you offer. Buying online and picking up in-store is a great example. Why? Because it simply adds to an existing service you offer, with the exception of a merged online purchase system.
Maybe you have a customer loyalty program in place. You could upgrade that system to allow customers to earn points, both in-store and online, and also allow them to redeem rewards from anywhere, as well.
Have a mobile app that provides a lot of value? Promote it in-store and allow customers to use it in new ways. Target does this with their Cartwheel app by offering exclusive deals and promotions even when customers visit local stores.
Incorporate New Technologies
Since the merger between online and physical retail has been happening more and more, many new technologies have cropped up to help facilitate this exchange. Indoor mapping and geospatial data systems are proof points. Indoor mapping involves building an accurate representation of a physical location’s layout and design. Think of the process as creating a Google Maps-style digital map of an indoor location.
There are lots of things you can do with this technology beyond the basic mapping and exploration opportunities. You could, for example, improve safety inside the store by identifying high-traffic and problematic areas. You could even consider sending promotions and alerts to mobile devices as shoppers walk by certain signage or adverts.
Outside the store, geospatial data can help understand the surrounding area, too, by allowing you to dive into the particulars of nearby demographics, poverty and crime ratings, habits and popular trends, and more.
Out with the Old, in With the New
Even the most basic retailer will need to incorporate some of the newer digital technologies to survive in today’s landscape. There are over 2.5 billion smartphone users worldwide, and that number continues to grow. Mobile alone dominates a lot of the online and digital market share, but desktops still exist too.
The point is that people are continuously turning to online and digital platforms, and that influences how they experience the world around them. Any business or operation that doesn’t factor this into their future endeavors will find themselves far behind the competition.
About the writer: Nathan Sykes is a writer and blogger covering topics related to technology, business and the future of work. He is the owner and editor of Finding an Outlet.