Back from the Edge: Why bricks-and-mortar stores are key to retail success in the digital eraBY Stuart O’Neill
There’s a renaissance happening in Australia’s retail sector.
Bricks-and-mortar stores are making a comeback. Going against expert predictions that physical store fronts would disappear as online and digital channels took hold.
In an interesting twist, it’s the pure-play digital stores that are moving into physical store fronts too. Local beauty site Ry.com.au opened a shop in 2016, and Amazon launched its first bookstore in the US in 2015 - a move that proved so popular the company is on the brink of opening its 10th store later this year.
Roy Morgan’s State of the Nation report found Australians made a combined 1.45 billion trips to physical stores in the 2016 financial year – a huge increase of 90 million store visits compared to the previous financial year. Similarly, online shopping continues to go from strength to strength with Australians spending an estimated $41.3 billion online over FY16, a year on year increase of 9.25 per cent.
The reality is the bricks-and-mortar store is far from dead. But neither are online and digital channels. Which is why in 2017 the most successful brands will be those unifying their sales channels to support their omnichannel strategy.
As consumers increasingly shop across digital and traditional channels, omnichannel is key to business growth.
And in today’s saturated, fast-moving markets here’s why.
Blurring online and physical stores
At its core, an omni-channel strategy is about allowing consumers to engage with your business when they want and how they want – and this means through whatever channel they choose.
Consumers do not see a distinction between their online and offline experience, and they expect consistency across these touch points. Given there is little product differentiation today, if brands fail to deliver this superior level of service consumers will seek a better experience elsewhere.
It was a point succinctly made by Ry.com.au when opening its store: “Everyone used to draw a line between online and bricks-and-mortar businesses. The truth is, it’s just retail”, said cofounder James Pattern.
Consumers want their experience to be seamless, but to be optimised for the channel they’re connecting in. This means it’s important to remember a ‘consistent’ experience across channels doesn’t mean ‘the same’.
For example, what a customer needs when they visit your website will be vastly different to what they expect in-store. Your omni-channel strategy needs to reflect this.
Personalised and unique interactions
Creating a frictionless path to purchase across all channels is achievable thanks to the proliferation of data in the retail sector. Data is the biggest enabler for business; it holds the potential for you to connect to your customers in ways never before possible.
An omni-channel strategy should enable retailers to gather insight on their consumers as they shop across all channels to create one complete picture of them; helping a business reach them now and even better in the future.
The insights gleaned across channels means messages to customers can be personalised and tailored, allowing them to feel valued, and directing the experience you know they will want to boost sales.
In an online environment this means delivering content that your consumer wants; using behaviour cues to create a bespoke experience. It can be as simple as sending customers discounts relevant to their shopping behaviour or to data inputs they have provided such as their birthday.
For in-store environments, the Internet of Things (IoT) will have a role to play in personalising the experience. The future could see an individual’s browsing behaviour picked up by technology such as beacons and used to deliver special offers based on items they were interested in.
Retail has a bold future ahead of it, limited only by the imagination, consumers’ demand, and the advancement of technology. But frictionless, omni-channel experiences will be the centre of it.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Stuart is the General Manager for SAP Hybris Australia and New Zealand