It’s no secret that the e-commerce boom has transformed the way people shop and, in many cases, had a deleterious impact on in-store sales. Last year saw a 3.4 percent growth for brick-and-mortar sales and a notable 15 percent jump for e-commerce sales. With these numbers and news of retailers committing to close their physical locations, it’s natural to assume that brick-and-mortar is doomed. However, to suppose that the future of retail lives 100 percent online is shortsighted.
Admittedly, e-commerce giants have set high standards for consumers when it comes to customer experience. Suddenly, access to conveniences like live inventory availability, product reviews, product search, and personalized recommendations are only a few clicks away. Still, various research suggests that around 70 percent of people prefer to shop in-store. As you can imagine, this statistic flip-flops when focused on millennials alone, who overwhelmingly prefer to shop online.
E-commerce and shopping in-store each have their own benefits. Online shopping tends to require less time and effort, is easier to navigate, provides more personalization and, of course, spoils customers for choice when it comes to product availability. On the other hand, being able to try and test products, take items home immediately, and easily return them rank among the top reasons why some consumers prefer to shop in-store. Both options have their merits, but both leave something to be desired. In retail’s current state, consumers are forced to choose between these two imperfect purchasing journeys. But what if they didn’t have to be mutually exclusive? Spoiler alert: they don’t.
Brick-and-mortar’s saving grace is that customers can physically interact with products and take them home right away, which also happens to be e-commerce’s biggest con. On the other hand, online shopping’s front-running feature is its convenience and predictability, this being where physical retail falls flat. Through leaning on each other and combining forces, a closer-to-perfect shopping experience is born.
By borrowing ideas from e-commerce, retail stores can overcome their issues with unpredictability and inconvenience. For example, in-store inventory lookup, in-location navigation, and mobile payment tools can make shopping in-store just as, if not more, tactical than doing so online. Digitally logging purchases, virtual assistants and appointment booking tools for services like personal shopping and styling can also deliver a level of customization that rivals any e-commerce experience.
A technology-enhanced in-store experience checks all the boxes for the consumer, and possibly even more for the brand. By attracting more customers back to their stores, retailers will not only drive more sales but also inspire customer loyalty through the physical experience of their brand. In fact, many digital-native brands have reverse engineered this by erecting complementary physical locations to supplement the in-person experience that they’re lacking and to create a more tangible brand presence.
These hybrid stores will represent the best of the past and the future. Perhaps most importantly, they will represent an end to the brick-and-mortar vs. e-commerce battle and the beginning of a golden, interconnected age for retail.
Justine Santa Cruz is the senior vice president of enterprise and retail at Satisfi Labs, an intelligent answer engine platform that automates voice and text conversations between brands and their customers.
As senior vice president of enterprise and retail at Satisfi Labs, an AI-powered Knowledge Management Platform for conversational search and commerce, Justine Santa Cruz is dedicated to introducing disruptive digital innovation to the retail industry. Before joining Satisfi Labs, Justine led omnichannel marketing innovation at Macy’s and was a member of Oracle’s hospitality division. Justine is a graduate of Boston University’s Questrom School of Business.