With the connected world moving at the pace that it is and in an age where new technology is blurring the lines between the online and offline world; you wouldn’t be judged for questioning the relevance of traditional bricks and mortar stores in this digital-obsessed era.
With many of us working in jobs in which we inherently gain a lot of screen time due to the nature of the work, we would naturally assume that expanding an online presence would be the most appropriate way for retailers to grow a business and increase their market share. Despite the vacant slots in high streets up and down the country, it seems that physical store fronts are still favorited by brands to create a strong omni-channel presence.
The prominence of offline offerings was presented back in 2014 when Amazon – an exclusively online retail site, opened a physical store in New York.
It seems that bricks and mortar stores compliment online strategies for a number of reasons; allowing both modern and traditional brands to remain competitive and a unified customer service experience across all channels. Customer service, customer experience & brand relationships and logistics are the key reasons for retailers to continue with an omni-channel offering; when you consider that 78% of customers actually still prefer to shop in a physical store it makes good business sense. In 2014, a report showed that 92% of retail purchases happened offline – however, this doesn’t mean that online is to be snubbed; 8% of a £3.2 trillion industry is still a vast amount of money being spent in the digital realm!
For the time being, online shopping provides users with a one dimensional experience; 73% of shoppers want to try on or at least feel an item before they buy it and the only way that this can happen is in the offline setting.
“I prefer offline shopping to online for two reasons mostly. The first one is practicality, as it makes much more sense to try something on before you buy it. “Try before you buy!” There’s nothing worse than shopping online and when your garments arrive, they’re nothing like they were on the photos. This is especially true for most clothes and shoes; a size 5 shoe or size 8 dress in one shop might be a different size in the next shop so it makes reliability hard, especially when it comes to somewhere like Asos who stock a variety of brands (but I still do love Asos!), says editorial assistant Danielle Lett, “Secondly, I love the whole experience of shopping. Trying clothes on in a changing room is fun, as is finding things you might not have been looking for. It’s much more satisfying for me to walk out of a shop with bags rather than receive a parcel in the post. Plus it’s more social going shopping offline, you can make a day of it.”
In recent months, we have seen physical stores integrate technological advancements into their offerings; with interactive mirrors and iPads in the fitting rooms it means solvable problems such as seeing if a different size or colour is in stock just got a whole lot easier. It’s this direct contact with the items and also with staff that allow consumers to make a more informed decision.
Some business owners are convinced that those customers that shop instore are the ones that bring repeat business – but the reason behind it can also translate well online.
“In-store customers are more loyal and you have more of a relationship. Online it is more of a price-driven sale – very often customers are buying online because they want an item more cheaply. But customers still want quality. We aren’t the cheapest, but we are selling high-quality, trusted products and customers are reassured by our high-street presence to buy online with confidence”, states Marc Robinson from Cardiff Sports Nutrition, “We have a lot of experience we can share in-store. We need to bottle up that good advice and share it online too. It makes sense.”
Shopping behaviour has shifted from transaction based to being relationship based, so as well as offering knowledgeable and approachable staff, there is also a call for unique in store experiences – an offering that is difficult to replicate through an online interaction. Another reason why physical stores are still relevant, they provide a platform is that allows you to engage with customers meanfully – this is the key to building trusting and long-lasting relationships, turning a simple customer into a loyal brand advocate. The little extra experiences such as offering drinks, fun extras like photo booths (think Rough Trade) and duke boxes can make all the difference and are also great ways to capture customer data by asking them to enter their names and email addresses.
As well as aiding businesses to gain a significant advantage with regards to in store customers, physical stores also provide a logistical benefit – serving as storage space and shipping centre to support online transactions too. Rather than raise outgoing considerably by paying for a warehouse space, storefronts means that retail businesses can reduce their e-tailing fulfilment costs and make the process far more efficient.
Click and collect is genius; not only does the service benefit the customer by saving them the time and inconvenience of waiting in line at a post office depot, they are likely to make more purchases when in the store to collect the item! These extra purchases will not take place if the service is not offered. With 79% of customers opting for click and collect purchases and an 18% increase in additional sales, it seems that not offering the service will negatively impact your bottom line.
It seems that despite all of the faceless interactions that take place via the digital world each day, we still crave the human element when it comes to purchasing. Whether your retailing businesses began its life online or as a bricks and mortar store – it seems that the other avenue will enhance your offering, rather detract from it. Instant gratification is now the standard level of expectation, customers want to be able to purchase when they want, where they want and most importantly – how they want. By providing an omni-channel avenue you will meet these demands and enhance the customer experience and your bottom line.