E-commerce will not be the death of the in-store shopping experience, but there’s no denying that its advent has had far-reaching effects. Most importantly, it has given consumers a greater number of purchasing options and created a higher expectation of convenience.
Brick and mortar isn’t dead, but it does need to evolve in order to stay relevant in the modern consumer landscape. Digital technology has caused upheaval in the brick and mortar model, but savvy businesses recognize that this same technology also offers opportunities to improve shopping environments and turn consumers into loyal customers, both in-store and online.
When it was first invented, the department store model changed the way consumers shopped, introducing ready-to-use products for the first time. At the time, shopping in a department store was a more convenient, frictionless experience than the old model (buying materials that then needed to be custom tailored).
A similar change occurred when online shopping became a reality. E-commerce and digital innovation have influenced consumer behavior to the point that the department store experience feels out of sync with the way we prefer to shop now.
That’s because not only has the internet made consumers more self-sufficient, it has also made us less patient. As consumers we demand that products be easy to find, that information is readily available, and that we not necessarily be forced to interact with an associate if we prefer not to (or, at the very least, not until we’re ready to check out). Because infinite options are available at our fingertips, we’re more likely to be selective and less likely to settle for the brands a particular store chooses to carry.
In other words, the traditional department store experience is full of friction. Which section or floor to find what you’re looking for? Where to pay? How to avoid the crowds? What to do if a size, color, or product is unavailable?
When strategically employed, digital technology can help reduce these friction points and improve the shopping experience for customers.
Informed, curated offerings
Amazon is not generally known for product curation. The exact opposite, in fact. Amazon.com is the place to find everything, from new home appliances and tech gadgets right down to cotton swabs and thumbtacks.
But when Amazon launched brick-and-mortar stores they didn’t try to pack warehouse-sized spaces with every product known to man. What works online, where filtering, sorting, and searching requires only a few clicks, can be incredibly daunting and outright ineffective when translated to in-store experiences.
Amazon’s brick-and-mortar stores instead offer a curated slate of products. The company harnesses its digital data to put together a store that’s stocked with only its most popular, top-rated products (4-star and above). Not only does this data inform the products in the store, it’s used in digital displays to inform consumers as they browse.
Digital innovation, rather than rendering the in-store experience obsolete, can be effectively deployed to drastically improve customer experience in brick-and-mortar stores.
Clothing retailers, for example, have begun to use smart mirrors to enhance in-store shopping. Smart mirrors can automatically adjust fitting room lighting to mimic different settings, moods, and times of the day. They can suggest alternative options for customers and allow them to order different sizes directly to their fitting room -- no more peeking out of the room half-dressed, hoping to catch the attention of a busy sales associate.
Digital technology in-store allows brands to declutter the sales floor itself, allowing for a more serene atmosphere. The modern experience doesn’t involve clawing through racks of clothing to find a size. Instead, it’s about wandering through a thoughtfully designed store, selecting the pieces that appeal to you, and ordering the right size and color to be delivered directly from the storeroom to your fitting room.
The lesson for brands
The future of shopping is neither all offline, nor all online. There are conveniences that e-commerce provides that a brick-and-mortar store will never be able to compete with. And there is a level of service, experience, and instant gratification available in-store that can’t be replicated online.
Rather than looking at these as two competing channels, begin to consider ways that digital technology can be thoughtfully incorporated into the store experience to reduce friction and better satisfy customer needs and desires.