You can find many photographs online of abandoned malls and how they look on the inside. They can be haunting and beautiful illustrations of the great retail shift currently underway. eCommerce has turned the once reliable model of high volume foot traffic in stores into something else. The malls may shrink, or disappear altogether. But, physical retail will go on, with the great customer experience at its core.
Great Customer Experience in the Multichannel Age
But, if you’ve read this blog before, you might guess what I’m going to write next. Brick-and-mortar will never disappear. Yes, online sales grow every year at a higher rate than physical retail. However, people continue to buy in stores, for the most part. Instead of disappearing, physical retail is re-configuring for multi-channel fuflillment and brick-and-mortar focused on great customer experience.
Catering to Digitally-Driven Consumer Behavior
Both industry experts and trends in retail point to the rising prevalence of multichannel business. As retail expert Chris Wilkinson said at a recent Cin7 conference, customers don’t just buy, they lead with digital experience. They research products and comparison-shop online. They expect a brand to give them more than one way to engage with their products, as well as options for purchasing and delivery.
The Brick-and-Mortar Part of the Equation
Physical provide the crucial (and literal) “touch point” customers desire. Even if digital media drive the purchase process, consumers are still people living in the real world. Retailers know this. Thus, big chains invest so much in eCommerce and services such as in-store pickup of online purchases. Similarly, many pure-play eCommerce startups eventually get physical. Both cases recognize physical retail’s part in catering to customer behavior and providing a great customer experience across all their channels.
Creativity + Technology = Great Customer Experience in the Store
Where is physical retail headed? Will stores be less about transactions, more “physical portals into brand and product experiences,” as one writer puts it? Maybe.
After all, we already see brands use physical stores creatively. New showrooms let customers play with, sleep in, and wear products as they do in everyday life. Aisles and aisles stocked with packaged products don’t connect with consumers in the same way.
Brick-and-mortar isn’t dead, but bad brick-and-mortar is. Good brick-and-mortar will be stores that cater to customer behavior. On the public-facing side, retailers will find ever more creative ways to cultivate a great customer experience. In the back office, they will use technology to fulfill orders accurately, always aware of available stock at the POS and online.
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