One thing we do know about the retail landscape is that traditional physical retail has been challenged by the convenience and personalisation enabled online; and with any challenge, comes the need for change.
If physical retail can adapt to incorporate convenience and personalisation into its approach, it will have the winning ticket. One answer to this: omni-channel.
What is omni-channel?
Omni-channel has been cropping up for a while now, but whether people truly understand what it means, or how to use it, is another matter.
Omni-channel is a strategy that organises communication channels in a collaborative way so that each one can inform the other; allowing for a free flow of information that creates seamless, all-encompassing experiences.
This isn’t to be confused with multi-channel, the activation of a number of channels in parallel; which may have consistency in the brand image, but not personalisation.
Omni-channel is already being used online to create convenience and personalisation through bespoke adverts and recommendations, effectively allowing a single brand to present itself in tailored ways to each user.
This, along with the online sphere in general, has contributed to a climate of instant gratification in retail and the wider society.
How physical retailers can build better trust with consumers
Contrastingly, the physical retail environment is generally presented as one size fits all, with the customer having to do the work to find their match.
If physical retail can incorporate instant access to online features, such as reviews and recommendations, it will help assure customers and build trust.
This transparency would encourage customers to invest in physical retail instead of taking the self-service route online; as they would benefit from the sensorial experience of physical retail and the convenience, personalisation and assurance they have come to expect from the online world.
Omni-channel benefits both customers and retailers, immediately and in the long run.
The holistic experience, which can run from prior recommendation to aftercare service, creates brand loyalists; customers who will not only make the initial purchase but make repeat purchases and advocate the brand within online and offline communities.
Data capture and sharing also allows for analysis of trends and consumer habits, which can optimise planning and stocking to satisfy customer demand and curb retail losses.
What we do at our own retail company
At Play, we feed an omni-channel approach into our retail designs for all of the above reasons. This is something we did for Hyundai to great success by bringing digital retail to its physical showroom; we designed, produced and installed interactive units that acted as a silent salesperson by sharing information with other devices to present personalised content to each customer.
This allowed us to bring the authenticity of data generated recommendations into the physical retail environment instead of someone telling you what to buy (what is in it for them?) you can see from your own preferences what the best option is for you.
This trust is essential to the future of bricks-and-mortar retail – while customers want to be able to experience items, they will often choose to order the same product online where they can independently assess reviews, pricing and alternative options. So, we must bring this possibility into physical retail.
Don’t listen to the haters, physical retail still matters
Despite an increase in users shopping online, physical retail still plays a very important part in the shopping experience. Ultimately, it is the baseline of retail; it can be improved with elements of e-commerce, but not mimicked or recreated by it.
This is because physical retail goes to the heart of the desire for a purchase, whereas online shopping supplies only a need; a physical store can provide a customer looking for running shoes with additional services such as the measurement of running gait or the experience of sales representatives that go to the root of their passion.
If bricks-and-mortar retail can harness the benefits of e-commerce, it will regain its position as the centre of retail. Furthermore, the same theory applies in any industry or sector that provides a service or product.
Omni-channel is a versatile tool for retailers to use
Omni-channel can be harnessed in a number of environments to benefit both user and provider imagine the way the healthcare industry and the service it provides could be revolutionised with the free flow of a user’s preferences such as diet, exercise, and sleep?
The results, as with retail, would benefit both the user and the provider by providing a more personalised experience.
Omni-channel has already challenged many of the traditional ways in which we do things, and we expect it to move into many more industries, as the adoption of it is causing many positive evolutions.
As such, to answer my opening question: physical retail has not died, it is evolving to the modern world.