With shoppers finding much of what they want online, the future of the brick-and-mortar store can seem bleak.
Such major retailers as J.C. Penney, Lowe’s, Gap and Family Dollar, among many others, have announced plans to close at least some stores across the United States this year.
Is it possible, though, that an answer for what’s troubling retailers these days could be a hybrid model that marries digital with an in-store experience?
Already some are trying such an approach, as when Amazon opened a Black Friday pop-up store in Madrid where customers could browse, scan the QR code to learn more about any item that drew their interest, and instantly make a purchase online.
“This no-pressure concept is becoming increasingly popular as today’s customer strongly rejects any hard-sell tactics,” says J.J. Delgado (www.jjdelgado.xyz), a former Amazon marketing manager in Europe who led the largest sales day in the company’s history.
“Instead, they favor an environment that allows them to make their own choices based on all the information that is available to them.”
Retailers have been facing a sea change in their customers’ shopping habits for some time now. A recent Harvard Business Review article pointed out that some stores are handling the problem by cutting the number of employees and reducing the amount of training they give employees. But the three Wharton School of Business professors who wrote the article conclude that approach is counterproductive.
In Delgado’s view, retailers can’t waste time lamenting what was. They need to adapt to what is.
“The future of shopping is not in decline, it is evolving,” he says.
Delgado offers a few suggestions on how a hybrid of digital with brick-and-mortar can work for retailers determined to survive in the digital marketplace:
The customer must experience something they can’t online. Shopping has become a multi-sensorial experience that goes much further than a mere retail transaction, Delgado says. It is about replacing the traditional shopping experience and putting the customer at the center of the whole retail process. “The customer wants authenticity and something of real value, not just monetary value but emotional value,” he says.
Store staff must provide the human connection not available online. “That human connection is the store’s trump card and they must play it right,” Delgado says. “Maximizing that connection and combining it with online connectivity is fundamental to creating the ideal hybrid experience.”
Companies must seek innovative ways to manage their new reality. The changing retail landscape is paving the way for deals between manufacturers, retailers and delivery companies to create ‘mashups’ that allow them to combine their strengths and combat their weaknesses, Delgado says.
“Amazon is the main player in this game, as we have seen with their acquisition of Whole Foods Market,” he says, “but many others are following suit.”
One example is the clothing chain Zara. The chain’s London store features interactive mirrors and high-tech facilities, and combines traditional shopping areas with online areas where customers can scan QR codes and make orders that in many cases are instantly delivered to the store on the same day.
“Some see the digital transformation as the cause for store closures, but it’s very possible that this same digital transformation also could provide the solution to retail woes,” Delgado says. “It is clear that we will soon see more hybrid-retail strategies as retailers seek ways of consolidating their online and offline presence to deliver a seamless customer experience.”
J.J. Delgado, co-author of Think Video: Smart Video Marketing & #Influencing (www.jjdelgado.xyz), is a professional speaker and digital-marketing expert. He is a former employee of Amazon who led the largest international-sales day in the company’s history.