In the new pandemic-era normal, retail will undergo a great digital transformation. Successful stores will be those that seamlessly integrate digitally connected environments with omnichannel touchpoints that deliver consistent brand experiences.
The customer journey will need to be thoroughly reimagined. Journey maps have long been a standard approach to visualizing a customer’s ‘path to purchase.’ And though in recent years there has been recognition of the disruptive role of omnichannel, the customer journey has nonetheless been seen as basically linear. That has to change. The customer journey has become less sequential and needs to be seen more as a multi-dimensional customer ecosystem. From this new viewpoint, the future role of the store can be properly conceived to fulfill the particular needs of the target shopper.
Until recently, tech-based solutions have been seen as much-needed add-ons to a bricks-and-mortar experience. But, in many cases, they have functioned precisely as that – add-ons – and have not been fully conceived as part of a retailer’s entire proposition. As digital transformation in retail evolves, stores need to become “smart stores” that are used as a means to collect data, and as test & learn centres for innovations and strategies developed to optimize business performance, experiences, and customer loyalty.
These brick-and-mortar “smart stores” can become the omnichannel hub or epicentre of a shopper’s ecosystem. Going forward, the role of stores will be to synthesize the various media channels and generate personalized content, and to then create aunified customer experience that speaks with one brand voice across all touchpoints. This will reinforce the brand-customer relationship, which remains critical to entrenching loyalty. Real, live customer interactions in a physical store will remain a powerful tool in a retailer’s arsenal as the store will remain better at this than online retail, which remains predominantly transactional. Ensuring that the physical and online retail channels work cohesively and in a complementary fashion is the best road to success.
An example of the way omnichannel can affect the role of the physical store and push it further along the experience continuum is “webrooming.” Typically, retailers use “showrooming” as a way to elevate the in-store experience and lure customers in, with the hope of boosting sales. “Webrooming” flips the sequence. Customers can go to a retailer’s website to examine and test merchandise, then be lured to the store to experience the offering in a more authentic way.
To effectively respond to the call of the digital transformation ahead, retailers need to start by adopting a data-centric approach that seeks to understand the omnichannel shopper’s needs and buying behaviours at each point in the customer ecosystem. This depth of understanding and insight will add clarity to the role of the physical store in a retailer’s entire strategy, and guide decisions related to space planning, merchandising, in-store experiences, and cross-channel integration points.
The key now is not to pivot or die, but to embrace digital transformation, reimagine the role of the physical store, and rebuild better integrated experiences for customers.