To say that the last decade has been a challenge for brick-and-mortar retailers is something of an understatement. Not only did they have to contend with the rise of eCommerce organizations thanks to the ever-advancing nature of the internet, but they were also suddenly forced to deal with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, as well.
Seemingly overnight, in-person shopping was essentially off the table. Online businesses were in a position to thrive. While it’s true that vaccines are rolling out around the country and stores are opening back up again, many organizations are still struggling with this “new normal” that we find ourselves firmly a part of.
Still, all hope is not lost. As has been true for decades, brick-and-mortar organizations tend to excel when they rely on innovation to guide a path through adversity. Today, that doesn’t mean shying away from the digital world.
It means embracing it.
Understanding the Expectations of the Modern Shopper
One of the reasons why it’s so important to bring together the best of the physical and digital retail experiences has to do with what modern shoppers want in the first place.
A vital mistake that many businesses stumble into involves looking at their physical and digital sections as two different channels. They can see when they have their in-person location, and they think of their eCommerce website as something completely different. As a result, this tends to create an inconsistent experience – one that drives people to one or the other, when the situation should be teaching them to embrace both at the same time.
These days, consumers view retail brands as a single entity, regardless of how many “touch points” they may have. They’ll visit your website. They’ll visit you in-store. They’ll download your mobile application. They’ll interact with you on Facebook and Twitter. These are not considered to be separate experiences, especially among the younger generation; they are all looked at as one and the same.
However, when organizations continue to act like these are all separate experiences, it creates a significant problem without a long-term solution. People have no incentive to integrate their physical and digital activities. What you end up with is people who only shop online or who only shop in-store. Instead, what you could be focused on is the consumers who are actively engaged in doing both.
Identify the strengths of your online and offline channels. Then, work with a trusted advisor to develop a comprehensive strategy that enhances those strengths and gets them to play off of one another. This will make it easier for consumers to carry a purchase through from your brick-and-mortar store to your eCommerce platform.
Let your physical locations do what they do best: supporting their customer’s need to look, see, and experience products, or interact with experts. At the same time, online channels should shine in their own ways, like offering the convenience of having merchandise delivered or being able to place an order from anywhere at any time.
For example, you might try introducing self-serve kiosks in your store that customers can log into and receive personalized content, thereby collapsing the distance between your channels.
Build a Better Experience, Build a Better Business
To get an example of how effective this idea can be when executed, consider how Apple operates its retail stores. Their countless locations across the country tend to be highly profitable, in large part because they marry their physical business with the digital operations to form a next-generation experience that people can’t find anywhere else.
Do you need a new charger for your MacBook Pro? In just a few moments, you can search the web, check the stock levels, and have one delivered in a matter of hours from the closest retail location. Do you want to make a quick stop into an Apple Store for a quick purchase but don’t want to deal with long lines? You can grab your item, scan it with your phone, pay, and walk out without ever interacting with an actual employee.
This is a perfect example of bringing physical and digital operations together to embrace innovation; it takes what strengths both experiences and merges them to create something innovative. But more than that, it’s about giving consumers as much choice as possible, regardless of where they are or what they need.
Having said that, it’s becoming harder for brick-and-mortar retailers, in general, to find that kind of success. Times are changing quickly, but the brands that are able to make it through the next decade are undoubtedly the ones that are going to change right along with them. It’ll take a significant amount of work, and a trial-and-error period will be required, but it’s also entirely possible that the organizations who put the work in will come out all the better on the other side because of it.
How We Help
At DMI, we’ve helped some of the most well-known retailers simultaneously take advantage of their online and offline channels to create a future-proof retail strategy.
Through this work, we’ve learned that MACH architecture is essential. MACH stands for Microservices-based, API-first, Cloud-Native, and Headless. The goal of this strategy is to support retailers’ needs, even as they change, with a highly composable system and the ability to rapidly update, refine or change out components as business needs evolve and consumer demands change.
MACH overcomes the challenge of eCommerce modernization as well as concerns over all-or-nothing system replacement. This allows your organization to change those things in your store or on your eCommerce platform that need to be changed immediately and add in new features and capabilities quickly, all without risking the disruption that massive, all-at-once change can pose for your business.
Most importantly, however, is to recognize that there are experts, like DMI, that are available to help you embrace the convergence of physical and digital. A partner with extensive experience in eCommerce modernization and replatforming can do everything from helping you identify and prioritize the technology changes needed within your organization to meet your goals, to the planning, design and implementation of those changes.
Stay Ahead of the Retail Trends
If you’re interested in learning more information about how brick-and-mortar retailers can thrive when physical and digital innovation come together or to get answers to any other specific questions you may have in the context of retail innovation, contact DMI today.