Integrating Online and Offline Retail

Flying somewhat in the face of conventional wisdom that an online presence is the be-all and end-all, evidence points to the market expecting not only some form of offline presence from retailers but a smooth integration of the consumer’s online and offline experiences to boot. This has its origins in changing consumer behaviour; a recent survey by research specialist InReality recorded 75 per cent of shoppers using their mobile phones in-store.

Consumer connectivity

Indeed, increasingly fast mobile internet connectivity is a factor in evolving expectations about the retail experience. Mobile comparison site Broadband Choices suggests that up to three-quarters of the UK population can now access 4G mobile, depending on their provider. And as younger generations necessarily inherit the marketplace, the consumer base becomes more digitally savvy. Note shoppers’ increasingly common disposition to price check and compare big-ticket purchases, not only online but also in-store.

The unexpected saviour of high street stores

Such phenomena may prove to be a saving grace for retailers who have remained on the high street despite decreasing footfall, but only insofar as they are perceived as offering a truly integrated experience. Customers increasingly expect to be able to combine an online purchase with delivery taking place in person or in-store, for instance.

To compete, stores will be expected to offer something of truly added value – something a screen will never match. The experience that well-trained and enthusiastic staff offer – for instance, at any of the new Lego stores or in line with the more established Apple store concept – can go a long way to inducing a sale.

A temple of convenience

In a marketplace that’s moving closer to the idea of instantaneous consumption, some analysts predict the rise of buttons: these are tiny home devices that have a single function: to re-order the product they’re attached to. Low on toilet roll? Amazon’s Dash button is marketed with the promise that you never have to run out of your favourite products again. Merely hit the button and expect a delivery. Online-offline integration indeed.

Channel consistency

When the online-offline experience breaks down, however, or where such an experience is simply absent, customers are likely to notice. A 2015 survey by consumer watchers Which? reiterated that many customers insist the prime benefit of online shopping is comparing prices of the same product. If retail stores preclude this ability by, for example, cutting the mobile Internet signal, failing to offer free Wi-Fi, or displaying contradictory prices, expect the modern consumer to simply look elsewhere.

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