Simon Hathway is Group Managing Director, EMEA, at outform— the award-winning global innovation agency.
Digital, which changed all consumer behavior before Covid, has now completely reset customer expectations in the physical retail space – and there is no turning back. Now that the dust has settled after Covid, we see an emerging new retail reality relevant to any business that speaks to consumers, and it’s time to start navigating our way through it.
The experience of shopping online during the pandemic has given people a glimpse of what’s possible for the shopper journey, essentially boosting a change in their wants and needs. As people return to physical spaces, they are being equipped with a new set of expectations that demand more from physical stores, both now and in the future. The good news is that the tools and strategies to meet these expectations are already available.
First, it is important to understand what is at the heart of these new expectations. Digital is undoubtedly the driving force, but it is the desire for retail utility that’s the result. Shoppers have grown accustomed to the convenience of buying online and just want the same ease of use in-store. Research here at Outform found that 8 out of 10 shoppers use their mobile devices while physically present in a store – whether they want to compare products in-store via search or scan QR codes to get additional product information.
For many, the traditional point of sale – the end point for previously linear shopping journeys – is no longer the most appropriate point of sale for shoppers. A recent questionnaire found that shoppers want little to no contact with store staff. The impact of digital on the physical store journey means shoppers want to shop contactless in stores, such as contactless and self-checkout options.
Amazon has taken the first-move advantage in this space with the launch of its fashion-first brick-and-mortar store, Style. Shoppers can scan QR codes to access inventory information, including available sizes, right from their phone. With eight out of ten shoppers regularly using phones to scan QR codes, digital tools such as these are an effective means of delivering information to shoppers at the exact moment they need it and are essential to comply with the new expectation of usability.
Give them a digital handshake.
For consumers, the space between physical and digital has blurred and we now expect to navigate both seamlessly. Both are part of the same ecosystem, meaning consumers expect to have the opportunity to discover an item in one channel and then buy it in another. They don’t care about a retailer’s legacy channels.
We call this a firm and friendly “digital handshake”; a 360-degree customer experience without barriers between online and offline.
For example, entering a Nike store using the Nike app as a Nike+ member will give you a different experience. In the “in-store mode”, shoppers have the option to directly request their shoe size or book a fitting room. They also get access to exclusive offers and products in-store and can checkout through the app to avoid queues.
Retailers can also use this single customer view to understand buyer habits across all channels: an edge in improving recommendations and tailor-made benefits to drive customer loyalty.
When it comes to ensuring retail usability, shoppers expect retailers to create a unified commerce experience that removes all friction. For retailers, this means taking different channels out of their silos so that they work in unison. Not being able to return an online order to, for example, a physical store makes no sense at all for shoppers.
Connect the dots.
Finally, if you’re not thinking about APIs (application programming interfaces) to navigate the new retail reality, then it’s time you did.
APIs are software codes that allow retailers to connect their various platforms, such as online inventory inventory, to the point of sale in the store. While shoppers don’t see this working behind the scenes, it’s a critical element in delivering the utility people want both online and offline – a critical part of enabling retailers to connect different touchpoints of a shopper’s journey.
Taking advantage of emerging technologies to track behavior and past purchases is a valuable starting point for getting to know your audience and delivering what they want, both in terms of experience and usability, no matter what environment they shop in.