Virtual versus the real

A new shopping experience

Virtual versus the real

We all know that visiting a store on the high street is no longer the only way to buy goods. But this does not mean that the bricks-and-mortar shop has become a redundant relic of the past. Rather, it is evolving and taking on new roles and functions.

Two emerging practices demonstrate the new ways bricks-and-mortar stores are being used. Firstly, around 50% of consumers visit shops to check out products, before going home to make a purchase on the internet – this is known as ‘showrooming’. However, even more shoppers are doing the opposite, browsing online before going to a store to make a purchase, known as ‘webrooming’.

This practice is popular with consumers as it allows them to save time browsing and researching products, yet provides them with the trusted knowledge of in-store staff and a place to experience the product before buying, not to mention no delivery fees. Many retailers have developed measures to facilitate webrooming, such as showing online which stores have stock of the desired product, and free click and collect services.  However, less action has been taken to ensure showroomers can seamlessly glide between platforms.

Making it easy for the customer

In order to make the process easier for showroomers, retailers should be providing services that make it easy for individuals to pinpoint an in-store item online, by allowing them to scan or save items that were browsed on their phones. This information can then be easily accessed at home when they want to complete the purchase.

Indeed, showrooming is the more risky practice of the two from a retailer’s perspective, as consumers may turn to big e-commerce sites such as Amazon to get a better deal, having ‘sampled’ the products and made use of the expert staff knowledge in-store. This trend is supported by research showing that only 10% of consumers actually purchase goods from the same retailer they showroomed, so retailers need to promote in-store purchases while they have the consumer there.

To encourage showroomers to make in-store purchases, retailers could allow them to buy in-store and then offer a free home delivery service, encouraging them to stick with the retailer whose store they visited. Creating an in-store environment that generates excitement is also important in promoting the physical store and attracting sales. For example, retailers need to provide incentives such as offering demonstrations of new products or selling limited edition products that are exclusive to the store. Further in-store incentives may include personal promotions and customised products based on previous purchases or interests.

Omnichannel approach

As consumers no longer prefer one channel over another, but instead are combining them, clearly an omnichannel approach is the way to go. Consumers are more likely to be loyal if retailers make it easier for them to be, and this involves creating an omnichannel platform for the consumer to switch between channels when it suits them, whatever they happen to be doing.

Such an approach offers a variety of ways to make purchases, and this will depend on the customer’s priority. If it’s speed, the customer can check the product’s availability and reserve it online before instantly picking it up. If it’s the need for an expert opinion, on the other hand, the customer can come into the store to consult with a staff member and then order what they need to be delivered direct to their house. This flexibility is a unique benefit to omnichannel retailers, which cannot be offered by e-commerce sites that only provide a single purchasing framework.

The bricks-and-mortar store remains an important part of this omnichannel approach, although its role is changing. For example, the physical store has been shown to drive website traffic, thus increasing web sales. This emphasises the function of the store as a unique place to enhance the brand’s recognition and promote their identity and products to customers. Therefore, physical stores need to be continually developing and looking for new ways to attract customers, if they are to act as an advert for the online store. Such a strategy is confirmed by research (WSJ, MIS Quarterly)showing that the more money invested in a company’s physical stores, the greater the number of website visitors.

In order to compete with low price competition from e-commerce sites, retailers must recognise the value of their brand as able to drive both bricks-and-mortar and online sales. Studies have shown that rises in online sales are often also associated with large physical store sales, showing that both channels benefit from this. In other words, as much as the term has been bandied about, adopting a true omnichannel approach is the key to using the physical store to its maximum capacity.