The retail industry has gone through some fundamental changes in the past decades, the rise of eCommerce being the undisputed number one in terms of consequences. The breathtaking speed of this development shook the industry to its core and sparked some heated debate on what the future of retail would look like.
While eCommerce businesses emerged in manifold, experts deemed the future of brick and mortar much less bright. Online stores were expected to prevail and eventually even eradicate their offline counterparts.
Is brick and mortar dying?
Upon the rise of eCommerce, many asked themselves what brick and mortar store could possibly compete with the rich consumer data, low prices and instant ease that the web has to offer?With the development of online shopping, long leases, untrained employees and hassle with inventory would be a thing of the past. The future would be clean and easy, a pure-play online retail world.
Today, some years later, and despite this ominous outlook, physical stores are still here. In fact, there has been a turnaround in favour of brick and mortar.
As it turns out, some aspects of shopping in a physical store are simply irreplaceable by the World Wide Web. The Internet cannot supersede the experience of touching, smelling, tasting, feeling and trying on goods. What’s more, building meaningful relationships with customers proved much harder to do via a screen than in person.
So no - brick and mortar is definitely not dead. But what the future of shopping will hold in this ever-changing landscape remains to be seen. It’s a juxtaposition of efficiency versus experiences in which both eCommerce and brick and mortar have many avid advocates.
The answer is omnichannel
At CashOrCard we believe that it is not just Either/Or, it’s Both/And. Why not combine the ease, speed and cost-effectiveness of eCommerce with the experience, comfort and personal contact of brick and mortar. The future of retail belongs to those who can converge the two.
You may have heard about omnichannel retail, a term that rapidly gained ground among industry spearheads and experts alike. It has been rumoured to be the future for retailers, but what exactly does omnichannel mean?
First of all, omnichannel should not be confused with multichannel. The latter simply means offering your products across multiple channels. So offering a t-shirt in your web store and in your physical store. Omnichannel goes a step further than this.
In order to be omnichannel, every channel must work together to deliver a consolidated and uniform customer experience. No matter where your customers touch your brand, all channels are geared to offer seamless and consistent brand experiences. So customers can look up that t-shirt on their Smartphone, see the availability of colours and sizes for the physical store near them in real-time, drop by and try it on. The loyalty points they earn for it will be automatically added to their online account and they can later check their receipt in their email. Every channel is operated and managed as one, offering your customer the best of both worlds.
Industry leaders PwC and Kantar Retail anticipate that such true omnichannel experiences are the future of retail in their Retailing 2020: Winning in a polarized world report. They explain that the retail industry will polarise even further by 2020, partially due to channel fragmentation and smaller business footprints. And in this polarised ecosystem, a true omnichannel experience can offer a competitive edge to distinguish and stand out from all the others out there.
Some tips to get you going
So what does this mean for your small business? It certainly doesn’t mean that you have to completely change what you are doing now. However, it does mean that there’s some advantage to be gained for you and your customers. Here are some things you could do:
- Build one-on-one relationships with your customers across all your channels. You can connect their online profile, purchases, visits, and likes to personalise in-store offers for them.
- Leverage your loyalty program across platforms, rewarding and even driving online ánd offline sales. Loyalty programs are a great way to build customer relationships as well.
- Enjoy the best of both worlds by maximising the potential for each channel. Use your web store to offer Long Tail items, and offer Short Head items in your physical store.
- Use geolocation on your web store to drive traffic to your physical store via proximity and truly become a one-stop-shop for your customers.
That sounds all well and good, but opening up a brick and mortar store besides your web store is a huge undertaking by itself and requires time and money. An alternative to permanently opening up shop would be to give it a try in a somewhat more temporary setting. Have you ever considered one of these less-traditional but still very effective physical solutions?
- Pop-up Store –This is a temporary store that you operate for a set period of time. They are very trendy and offer a great way of giving brick and mortar a try. You can use companies such as Zazone to find a temporary location for your store.
- Sharing Space – An alternative to having your own space is sharing a space with other retailers, also known as shop-in-shop. There a some great advantages to this strategy, as it will likely cost you much less money and you can even combine your strengths to attract more customers and offer cross-over deals. You can find office space to share via Winkel Delen.
- Retail Truck – A somewhat less used, yet very creative, way of giving the physical realms a try is via a mobile store. Think for example about a mobile retail truck as a very flexible way of meeting your customers. Here are some examples of retail trucks.
- Market Stall – Not looking for something permanent, but do want to meet your customers? Why not just be there for important events in your specific sector. Check out events and fairs and rent a stall or booth for a particular occasion. This will allow you to get in touch with your customers by being in the right place at the right time.
All in all, becoming an omnichannel business is much less daunting than you may think. You don’t need to be very technical or affluent to pull it off. As long as you understand what your customers want, the right tools can help you come a long way.
Are you looking to open up shop next to your SEOshop web store? We’d be happy to help you out. Simply leave a comment or drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
About the author
Sophie is marketer at CashOrCard, the omnichannel retail solution that seamlessly integrates with your SEOshop account and lets you manage your online and offline stores from one central place. The Point Of Sale App is free for Android and iOS and gives you everything you need to run your business end to end. Sophie writes about everything that interests small businesses owners and entrepreneurs. Read more on the CashOrCard blog.