The future of retail is online and offline

Omni-channel retailing is a new movement impacting retail businesses both domestically and globally. It represents those retailers who embrace both the online and offline interactions with consumers to assist them along their buyer decision journey – including search, evaluation, the actual sale and also after-sales support.

This movement is led by changes in buyer behaviour. As consumers embrace the internet and smart devices more and more, they are constantly connected and able to purchase on the go. They are also empowered with an immense and immediate access to information through search engines and online communities where word of mouth is spread much more freely.

When came the ecommerce, followed the “connected consumer”

With the introduction of online shopping, many businesses saw the advantages in having a purely online model. This allowed lowering prices below what traditional bricks and mortar shops asked for the same products. For well over a decade now, offline shops have battled online ecommerce stores as price conscious consumers have been taking advantage of the sometimes significant cost savings. Economical downturns like the recent global financial crisis also increase this need for cost savings as consumer confidence decreases, as well as overall spending.

On top of this, information now flows much more rapidly and freely, and one of the consequences is that shoppers are much more educated.

As a result, traditional stores which were not able to embrace this shift towards online purchases have been loosing much. Some of the largest Australian retailers including David Jones, Myer and Harvey Norman failed to adapt and are now facing a struggle to keep up with the empowered consumer and compete with the online brands.

Many retailers have adapted to this new reality well and multi-channel has evolved into omni-channel retailing, where data (often real-time) is available and flows between the online and offline stores, smart devices and social media, traditional media (radio, tv, etc) in order to allow users to action their purchase decision when and where suits.

Omni-channel retailers such as Top Shop and Zara identified what many other retailers missed. Their online and offline presence led to an improved experience, a marked improvement in brand-loyalty, continuous technological innovation and for a result, a business growth.

Embracing the omni-channel model

According to research conducted by IBM, the biggest influence on shopper behaviour is still the store, even though not all purchases will take place there. Interaction with a product or service is important in shaping opinions and influencing decisions. Many customers will research online (24% according to the Australian Centre for Retail Studies) before purchasing in store, so equipping consumers with the right information will assist them in their making their purchase decisions. If you fail to be online, you fail to capture that large audience who use the internet to research before heading to the stores.

Embracing an omni-channel model will allow traditional retailers to create deeper engagement and more meaningful experiences for their shoppers – one that is hard for the pure play online retailers to emulate. This will allow you to integrate important initiatives such as in store returns for online purchases, and giving customers the ability to view in store stock levels. Empowering them with the right information, at the right time, in the right place.

Other Important Factors that will influence Purchase Behaviour

Social Media
Get on social media, listen to your customers and respond to their queries or concerns. Active engagement is important in online communities. To remain relevant in the minds of consumers, retailers and brands need to listen to the online banter happening through all the various channels. They also need to collect and utilise that valuable information. This can help design more relevant promotions, inform merchandising decisions and will provide you feedback as to whether your current model is working.

Importance of Dynamic Merchandising
Retailers need to mine data for purchase trends so they can make smarter decisions about merchandising in-store. If a product is sold out in-store that’s revenue lost for the retailer. It’s impossible to stock every product and its variations, so choosing the right stock is important. And so is having backup plans in place to make it easy for your consumers to get that item e.g. allowing consumers to purchase the sold out product in store and providing free shipping to their home within a short time frame.

Customer Service will always Reign
If the shopfront is still the major influence in purchase decisions then retailers need to more actively capture those sales in store before they go to their competitors online.

Competitive pricing is one factor which will help capture those sales. But so is good customer service. Exceptional service will often lead to in-store sales even if the consumer is aware of cheaper prices online.

Conclusion

Embracing an online and offline model can help capture the empowered consumers who utilise technology and the internet to assist in their purchase decision making. Offering a model which caters to their needs will ensure you capture a larger segments of the market including those who purchase in-store but research online as well as those that prefer to research and purchase online only.

Retailers need to be where the people are and embrace the same technologies consumers now use. Having a physical presence that is supported by an online store will help capture a larger market segment, will increase engagement and assist you in undertaking important initiatives that cannot be emulated by purely bricks and mortar or your online counterparts; leading to an increased competitive advantage.

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Written by

Managing Director of EmpireOne Group in Sydney, Sebastien has made a life of understanding both sides of the fence. Born in Canada and educated as a self-started business software engineer, not a single day passes without finding Seb tweaking a process, system or piece of code.