Amid the euphoria of the Internet bubble of the 2000s, digital oracles predicted the demise of brick-and-mortar retail, overthrown and buried by e-commerce. 15 years later, however, brick-and-mortar retail is alive and generally kicking. And there’s a reason for that: e-commerce never killed it, it transcended it. Formerly, competitors, the two channels have become partners. From single channel to omnichannel, the digital universe has changed the face of brick-and-mortar retail. Or rather, it has become an important tool to sell more and more efficiently.
Evolving sales channels
Retailing has changed a lot over the past 20 years. Driven by digital technologies, this revolution has impacted all the original functions of retailers. From logistics to marketing, from sales to order management and customer loyalty, the tables have turned. And this evolution, of course, has also changed the face of major retail channels.
This is the original channel, the one that goes from the store to the customer. You need something and you go to a store. Classic, traditional.
This is the model behind the growth of e-commerce. An online offering emerges in contrast with brick-and-store models. Two parallel approaches that can generate rifts in work methods and data. In extreme cases, there’s even the risk of internal competition. It’s functional but limited.
A more fluid consumer journey emerges and it becomes possible to switch from one channel to the other. Consumers can order online and pick up their orders in stores, as in the case of click-and-collect.
This is the ultimate solution. The solution where all online and offline channels converge to provide a single customer experience. No more hurdles. All information is shared, all stores are interconnected, and clienteling becomes part of new work habits. But this approach requires an important element: control over customer data and the consumer journey.
Drive-to-store: Bridging online and offline retail
Drive-to-store combines the best of the online and offline worlds. The goal is to bring the consumer to the store. To achieve this, advertisers have several options at their disposal, which usually converge on the smartphone.
Multi-local advertising on social media sponsored SEA links, and display advertising on smartphones through geolocation – all excellent tools to reach the right person at the right time, and especially in the right place.
Drive-to-store creates customized scenarios to encourage consumers to visit stores. To achieve this, the most common strategies revolve around a conversion offering a special deal.
This conversion can take many forms:
- A web app visit.
- Downloading an app from an official marketplace.
- Collecting phone numbers for the SMS channel.
- Social interactions with a chatbot.
All that advertisers must do is create an attractive offer: time-limited coupons, free parking, extended warranty, 2-for-1 deals, and so on. An effective way of using the web to attract an audience already in tune with the brand.
Omnichannel: The long sought-after excellence
The most successful experience in retail management today is the omnichannel model. It provides absolute convergence, usually integrating interconnected stores and augmented sellers (clienteling). This is a digital-based model that incorporates the customer experience as a lever of success.
- Customers can buy online and return the product in a store.
- Customers can buy a product at the store and have it delivered to their hotel or office.
- In-store vendors can also work with customers to prepare packages for online purchases (ship-from-store).
- Stores become stockless sales outlets, like showrooms, with a smaller, less expensive venue to emphasize the experience. Customers can place their orders in the store and have them delivered at home.
Several global brands have jumped on the omnichannel train. Apple, Timberland, Starbucks, and Decathlon are just a few examples of this. In France, most big stores can now handle both in-store and web orders. An excellent way to optimize the supply chain, also with the integration of RFID chips to quickly check all orders. The brand tests express deliveries and experiments with new web-to-store and store-to-web models.
Formerly enemies, online and offline retailing have become allies. By being able to switch from one channel or device to another, this alliance reflects new consumer habits. It also reflects the need for quick organization strategies in order to fight against the Amazon juggernaut. Ironically, after conquering the web, Amazon is now investing in offline retailing, with the acquisition of WholeFoods Market, the opening of cashierless stores (Amazon Go), and the creation of Amazon bookstores.