Digital retail is nothing new.

At least not from a basic e-commerce perspective, as consumers have been buying products online for decades, with the first activity of this kind dating back to the early Eighties.

However, rapid advancements in technology have made purchasing journeys not only simpler and speedier, but also more creative and meaningful; as a result today’s digital retail model is light years from where it started at the inception of internet shopping and, as a result, this mode of selling has gone stratospheric.

In recent times, digitally native, D2C brands have been popping up in our timelines at a breathtaking rate, giving customers more choice than ever before, with just a few clicks between them and their purchase landing on the doorstep – sometimes within a matter of minutes.

It would be easy to think bricks and mortar stores have had their day – that consumers no longer have the need to leave their homes to visit high streets, malls or retail parks.

Certainly more traditional physical retail models have fallen from favour and, in some cases, become obsolete as shoppers demand so much more from their shopping experiences.

But what has become apparent, particularly in the last two years, is one cannot exist without the other; the retail revolution of the 2020s, significantly shaped by the global pandemic, requires a more sophisticated, blended approach fusing the physical with the digital in order for brands to truly succeed.

‘A decade in days’

For obvious reasons, COVID-19 accelerated the rise in online retail at an exponential rate as entire continents ground to a halt and humankind stayed indoors, with only the internet to keep them connected to their favourite brands.

From seismic shifts in consumer behaviour, to the immediate need to embrace new technologies at speed, the transformation for retail was so sudden and dramatic McKinsey dubbed it ‘a decade in days’.

Digitally native brands were in their element as this was their moment to shine, to maximise their potential and use their skills and experience within the sector to further grow audiences, build on their online communities and reap the benefits of lockdown as physical stores closed their doors and high streets fell silent.

Similarly, existing brands with a previously established omnichannel presence flourished too, as their customers felt comfortable shopping with them virtually, already familiar with their digital offering designed to complement their physical stores.

But for those retailers and brands who had not yet made the leap to hybrid, the pandemic served to deliver a rather sudden and unexpected blow which some rallied against, making rapid enhancements to their online offering, while some sadly sunk under the sheer weight of revenue loss.

However you paint it, the pandemic confirmed once and for all just how crucial a seamless omnichannel service, neatly combining the physical with the digital, is for the future survival of any business within the industry.

Achieving the perfect blend

Omnichannel, hybrid, phygital, clicks and mortar – many a term has been coined for this blended retail model, but what exactly is required to succeed in today’s fiercely competitive market?

Once lockdowns had been lifted around the globe, customers raced back to physical stores in reassuringly high numbers; any concerns around e-commerce completely obliterating the need for people to visit the high street were quickly allayed – although now there is a significant thirst for stand out retail experiences that combine the two.

In an interview with City AM, Russell Loarridge, UK director of customer identity company ReachFive, said:

“Covid has accelerated the adoption of e-commerce but it has also highlighted the limitations of an online-only model, particularly for non-essential items,

“Yes, it is possible to buy a bike online, or a sofa. Even a car. But it’s not the same. Shoppers not only want to touch, feel and gauge the quality of these items, they also value the expertise of those making the sale.”

While this is true to some degree, technology does now afford audiences the opportunity to get a genuine feel for a product online through AR and VR capabilities, as well as the more human element of one-to-one or one-to-many online interactions such as video calling, on-demand or live streamed demos and masterclasses.

In-store, tech must now play a significant role too, so as to mirror the slickness of a brand’s virtual offering; by leveraging technology, businesses can enhance shopping experiences, intrigue customers, stay relevant and collect all important data.

And when it comes to offline retail, there is no longer a need for brands to have a permanent presence in every high street or shopping centre.

Temporary physical activations such as pop-ups, product launches, VIP events and staged entertainment can provide brands and retailers – particularly digitally native ones – with the opportunity to connect with customers old and new in the flesh.

Make it personal

Ultimately, the key to success in hybrid retail is personalisation.

By offering individual shoppers an experience tailored specifically to them, the customer can feel valued, understood and aligned with a brand.

In order to build each customer’s profile, data collection is of paramount importance, both in-store and online.

Using technology to capture and intelligently analyse information gathered at all available touchpoints, whether digital or physical, paints a detailed picture of the shopper in question, empowering brands to create a bespoke customer journey.

This attention to detail results in a stronger, longer lasting brand/consumer relationship where trust is built, brand loyalty grows and customer experiences are shared with peers.

As an individual’s lifestyle changes with age and circumstance, communications can be tweaked to reflect these changes and encourage customers to stick with their favourite brands for the duration.

Research shows significant improvements are still required for brands to completely nail this concept.

In a survey carried out by Infobip, it was revealed almost three-quarters of shoppers still receive “disjointed, depersonalised communications from brands” which led to more than one in five consumers switching brand allegiance during lockdown.

It is vital to understand and respond to the subtle differences between one customer and the next, as personal preference is exactly that; obtaining the right data can be the differentiator between keeping and losing a valued customer.

The shape of the future

Delivering exceptional hybrid customer experience is the only way to cut through the noise in a saturated industry like retail.

With tech holding the door wide open for creativity, the possibilities are almost endless – and bold steps must be taken to embrace and deliver fresh and captivating omnichannel experiences to entice and sustain customer loyalty.

By taking on board the necessary digital transformation, brands will quickly discover the benefits, so long as they prioritise investment into data capture and analysis so as to fastidiously match their service with the needs of each customer.

At Stellar, we have the experience and expertise to guide you through this transformation and ensure your brand stands out and succeeds.


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