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Retail’s Future is Increasingly Hybrid

For many years, retailers and consumers questioned the sustainability of brick-and-mortar stores, predicting that online shopping would one day completely take over. Physical stores as we once knew them would no longer exist. But, recent results are saying otherwise. 

Brick-and-mortar stores are no longer competing with e-commerce, but rather complementing it. In fact, almost 42% of e-commerce orders last year involved stores— a significant jump from 2015, which fell at about 27%. Now more than ever, shoppers are heading to stores to see products in person before making final purchases online. They’re also using stores as a way to pick up and return online orders. Retailers are even transforming physical stores into fulfillment centers to ship online orders.

With physical stores at the heart of retail, it’s important to consider how businesses can use online and in-store opportunities to boost the customer experience, fill experience gaps, and drive purchase decisions. 

Buy-Online-Pick-Up-In-Store (BOPIS)

Hybrid retail opportunities are the perfect way to fulfill the customer’s need to scroll and pick out their favorite items without having to wait for the order to come in the mail. Instead, they can make a quick trip to the physical store, pick it up, and avoid potential shipping issues. 

Businesses are also implementing buy-online-return-in-store opportunities, allowing customers to avoid the hassle of packing and shipping items and paying return shipping fees. 

The hybrid combination addresses pain points for customers and retailers alike. Target now fulfills nearly all of its sales from its 2,000 physical stores, while Kohl’s fills about a third, and Walmart more than half. With in-store purchases and returns skyrocketing, retailers are combining fulfillment operations with the physical store to improve efficiency.

At Neiman Marcus, you can even pick up or return items without getting out of your car. Team members can perform curbside pickup and returns, making transactions more convenient than ever. This retailer even takes it up a notch, offering pickup gift wrap options for when you’re grabbing a gift on the go. 

In-Store Mobile App Opportunities

Mobile apps aren’t only for online shopping. Many retailers are adding new functionalities and features that allow customers in stores to access digital coupons, loyalty programs, virtual checkout options, and more. 

At Sam’s Club, customers can pick out their items in stores and scan them with their phones, paying in the app and showing their digital receipt to a staff member on their way out. This allows customers to completely skip checkout, reducing line traffic and allowing them to track their overall total throughout their shopping experience. With the Scan & Go checkout, patrons can also pay for items at the cafe, get gas, and scan out-of-stock items to have shipped to their homes. The warehouse club also plans to stop checking receipts at the store, opting to use AI to scan carts instead.

Moosejaw is a smaller retailer with brick-and-mortar stores as well as online options. On their mobile app, shoppers can access their loyalty program, join text alerts, order online for free curbside pickup, and use their augmented reality visualization. The AR feature allows customers to visualize how certain products, like tents or backpacks, would look in their actual environment to get a better sense of size before making a purchase. 

Mobile apps can deliver personalized content right at the user’s fingertips. Use this opportunity to integrate technology that customers already interact with on a regular basis to address experience gaps and craft a better overall shopping experience. 

Inventory Management 

For customers, it can be frustrating to arrive at a store and realize the one item they needed is out of stock. At some physical stores, customers can use a retailer’s mobile app to see if their desired products are available.

REI (Recreational Equipment Inc.) offers a mobile app with a key feature: the ability to check inventory availability at your local REI store or any of their other locations. When you search for a specific product like a tent, backpack, or hiking boots, the app will show you which nearby REI stores have them in stock, along with the quantity available. If the products aren’t in stock, customers make purchases from the app for in-store pickup or delivery. 

What’s more, the REI app gives you the ability to scan barcodes in-store to read product details and reviews on a specific item. It’s easier than ever to know what you’re buying before you buy it. 

Combining the online and in-person shopping experiences will fill customer experience gaps and maximize efficiencies. As technology continues to advance, employ new strategies to make systems more accessible, usable, and effective for customers. Online and in-store shopping are no longer rivals, instead working together to enhance the customer experience. 

Looking to maximize your retail shopper touchpoints? Download our free workbook to start closing experience gaps


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