Why ‘Online’ and ‘In-Store’ Are Outdated Retail Terms
There’s no question that technology is methodically being incorporated into consumers’ lives. Starbucks is making millions by allowing people to pre-order their afternoon coffees from its app. Disneyland has evolved its SpeedPasses into wearable bands that enable people to not only cut the ride lines, but also purchase food and toys via a linked credit card. Amazon.com’s new tech-enabled retail concept allows customers to walk into its Amazon Go store, grab an item and walk out without ever having to stop at a register. The common denominator in each of these forward-thinking initiatives is the frictionless integration of technology-enhanced customer experiences. Retailers must fully embrace digital experiences as the new normal within their industry or prepare themselves to lose significant sales and market share to competitors that do.
Many retailers aren’t fully optimizing the effectiveness of their marketing investments because they're still viewing online and in-store as separate channels. They use exclusive offers and sales to drive people to stores or their website. These offers typically fall short of expectations because of the innate selfishness in these strategies. Consumers have an almost infinite amount of retail options, so forcing people through a specific channel at a specific time is the surest way to put off the modern consumer. Today’s shoppers don’t just shop online or at stores, they do both — increasingly at the same time.
Retailers need a 24/7 digital brand that properly leverages the channels that are most important to their customers. For instance, a retailer aimed towards older shoppers would be better served investing in Facebook ads than a Snapchat filter. While it’s tempting to jump on the latest and greatest technology, the foundation of a solid digital experience strategy relies on having a thorough understanding of both what channels your customers use as well as customer pain points your brand could potentially solve. Digital experiences blend these two realities together to ensure retailers are “always open” and minimize the possibility that a customer will shop elsewhere.
Having an always-on brand — i.e., one that's able to convert sales at any time — places huge importance on one thing: availability. Retailers’ apps, websites, devices and any other digital touchpoints must work consistently and flawlessly. Consumers have lofty expectations when it comes to the digital experiences they choose to engage. More focus should be placed on the technical elements that go beyond traditional quality assurance (QA), such as APIs, in-app bug reporting and crash reports. The cost of a broken link or faulty app is steep, as Forrester shows roughly 35 percent of people say they switch to a competitor’s offering after a single bad digital experience — often with no switching cost at all.
There's nothing as important to a modern retailer as creating digital experiences by closing the gap between e-commerce and brick-and-mortar strategies. It would be easy to look at the meteoric rise of online sales and begin shifting more resources to that channel. Brands that do that, however, are missing out on a huge chunk of the population that enjoys shopping in the real world. A seamless sales process is created when a company empowers customers, not dictates the terms of engagement. Too many retailers are opting for one channel or the other, which excludes them from the benefits of omnichannel digital experiences. Mobile payments, in-store pickup and online return policies are tools, they’re not a strategy. Successful companies prosper because they listen to how their customers want to make purchases and facilitate that experience as best they can.
Peter Blair is the vice president of marketing at Applause, a provider of digital experience testing, user feedback and research services.