The Future of Retail Lies in Consistency — in Person and Online
Some might say that retail is dying, but e-commerce growth is off the charts. In 2008, e-commerce accounted for just 3.6 percent of retail sales; now, that number has grown to 9.46 percent. The average yearly growth rate is 15.75 percent, and it shows no signs of slowing.
While the shift toward online purchasing began largely in the world of apparel and consumer packaged goods, the experience has now moved into the realm of grocery and vehicle shopping. The evolution is expected to take place over the next few decades as retailers with tech backgrounds begin to offer enticing delivery options.
Clothes are already a hot e-commerce item, but some consumers prefer to shop for apparel in-store because they can try items on. That advantage might finally be evaporating, thanks to technology from companies such as Warby Parker, which allows consumers to upload a photo and see how glasses will look on their faces.
Ultimately, retail is all about catering to consumers’ needs. Technology has dramatically changed the shopping experience by making it quick, easy and efficient. Brick-and-mortar retailers of all kinds should take note and work to constantly evolve their shopping experiences.
The Evolution of E-Commerce
Shopping used to involve a trip to the mall that could take hours as you browsed stores and tried on clothing. When you bought something and then changed your mind, the return process involved another trip to the mall, where you’d likely spend more money. Then, you were probably left with store credit — provided you had the receipt.
Today, if you’re like 88 percent of consumers in the 2017 United States B2C Ecommerce Country Report, you likely begin by researching your favorite products online. You might read reviews or influencer blogs, then compare prices. You might visit a store to experience the product in person before purchasing online for delivery or opting for in-store pickup.
Four years or five years from now, product research and price comparisons will still exist, but they’ll be followed by tactile brand activation either for yourself or influencers in your network. The activations will allow attendees to touch or try on products before making a purchase. Influencers will use their reach to promote the products, and consumers like you will be better prepared to buy online.
Experiences are increasingly popular, especially among millennials, according to a poll by Harris Group. Activations at malls fit the bill perfectly, and brands that can create a personalized, engaging in-person experience will drive more purchases at the event and online.
Creating a Hands-On Experience
Price, which moves product and creates revenue, will always be an important factor in shopping. However, it will never replace the stories brands tell through marketing and activations. Stories are what create lasting loyalty. Brands that tell a consistent story, cater to consumers’ desire to look and touch products, and streamline the online shopping process will be the ones that flourish moving forward.
Ensuring a seamless omnichannel experience for customers is critical. Best Buy executed this strategy almost flawlessly by focusing on driving website traffic and providing consistent, personal in-store service. The result? The retailer experienced higher growth than it expected in the first quarter of 2018. Take a page from Best Buy’s book and integrate your e-tail and retail experiences right away.
Online-only brands must create opportunities for consumers to interact with products in the real world. Planning pop-up retail locations and experiential activations can make a world of difference. Reach out to shopping centers that cater to your target demographic to secure an area for an activation that allows influential consumers to engage with your products and your story. They, in turn, will share the story of their experiences.
For both online and brick-and-mortar retailers, the experience economy is noteworthy. Shopping patterns will continue to swing in the online direction, but brands that can tell a consistent story online and in person will command loyalty, regardless of how consumers elect to make their purchase.
Darren Wilson is president of bluemedia, strategist, entrepreneur and speaker. His contagious approach to business has resulted in more than 18 years of success for his companies, along with industry-leading wins for clients like the NFL, Warner Brothers, Target, and AT&T.