Credit: Getty Images by bernard bodo
Distance makes the heart grow fonder, sure. But it can also create romanticized expectations that are near impossible to meet. While there’s certainly a lot to miss about physical shopping, it’s possible some consumers have built up the retail experience in their head to the point where it will be hard for stores to deliver. To use another adage about human nature, people want what they cannot have. During the last 18 months, when in-person shopping was not possible, or at the least, not the same, some consumers yearned for classic brick-and-mortar moments more than ever. So, what happens now that consumers can visit stores again, and how about long term, when the pandemic is at last behind us?
Retailers have no choice but to REALLY deliver on the core benefits of physical shopping — the joy of discovery, getting to touch and feel a product, the potential for immediate gratification, and the social aspect, whether that’s spending time with a loved one or connecting with a stranger. They must understand shoppers’ sentimental longing for normalcy, while continually innovating to reflect expectations for convenience and personalization. Otherwise, stores will have sorely disappointed shoppers on their hands.
Building the Bionic Beings of Retail
There’s a famous TV show from the ’70s called “The Six Million Dollar Man” about a former astronaut named Steve Austin, played by actor Lee Majors. After a flight accident, Austin is rebuilt with bionic implants and becomes better, stronger and faster. It makes me think about in-person retail experiences. The pandemic was our flight accident. Now it’s time to rebuild, using digital technology and interactive components to create “phygital experiences” that make shopping better, stronger, faster.
“Phygital” is more than the latest buzzword. It’s the concept of blending digital and physical components to create unique, memorable moments. To build their own equivalents of enhanced bionic beings, retailers should consider a few best practices and heed common pitfalls.
Focus More on the Customer and Less on the Channel
Retailers must take a customer-centric approach to every area of their business. It should matter less where a consumer buys, as long as they buy, and all experiences, regardless of channel, are cohesive and on-brand experiences.
Data, Data Everywhere
You may be tired of hearing of it, but personalization hinges on data — not just collecting it, but knowing how to use it. Retailers must invest in devices, software and employee training that enable store associates to pull up customer profiles with a touch of a button, or instantly create personalized experiences, for example, by using customized messaging on a kiosk or digital menu when a person enters the store. More than ever before, employees are using personalization when reaching out to customers to bring them into stores. Digital content services that help train those brand ambassadors will simplify their jobs while maintaining an authentic connection with consumers.
And Not Just for Technology’s Sake
The best phygital experiences add true value to the shopper’s life. They don’t always have to be complicated, and not every store has to implement every emerging technology. Kiosks are a simple but effective example of using digital technology to improve an in-person experience, whether that’s checking in at the airport or learning more about a store’s product line. Digital screens and video walls can also create cutting-edge environments while communicating important messages about safety, sales, inventory or brand ideals. The latest generation of in-store signage, overhead messaging and television systems are easy to control and customize, making it easier to ensure online and offline cohesiveness. What’s even better is that screens are flexible and messaging can be changed in an instant, something in-store shoppers are looking for.
Convenience is Still King
According to a 2020 study by the National Retail Federation, nine in 10 shoppers choose a retailer based on convenience and expect retailers to help them save time and effort. The research also finds that 83 percent of people believe convenience is more important today than it was five years ago. During COVID, a number of phygital solutions emerged to make shopping easier, and safer, including BOPIS, curbside delivery, and virtual shopping experiences in which customers video chat with sales associates. Consumers will expect these solutions even after the pandemic subsides — but they’ll likely have even higher expectations for the experience. Curbside delivery shouldn’t just be easy, it should be fun, perhaps bolstered with happy music or a pleasant, albeit brief, interaction with an associate.
Bionic, But Still Social
Social media is an excellent tool for bridging online and offline experiences. Retailers can create digital storefronts that feature user-generated content from their social pages and promote hashtags, online deals and ad campaigns. Retailers can also encourage people to pop by a store by advertising “in-store only” deals or special events and opportunities on their social channels.
With these tips in mind, retailers can build the next generation of physical shopping. These new experiences reflect what people love most about retail — benefits that some consumers may even romanticize — and bolster them with digital elements. It’s at once the best of both worlds and a whole new world — the retail equivalent of a bionic super-being.
Jaime Bettencourt is senior vice president, North America, account management at Mood Media, a company that provides on-premise media solutions to help you connect with your customers, enhance your brand image and grow your business.
Jaime Bettencourt is an accomplished senior-level sales and marketing leader with a proven ability to achieve double-digit revenue growth, recognized for designing world-class customer experiences for leading lifestyle and retail brands. She has a robust track record for leading teams and leveraging custom, complex in-store marketing, media and technology solutions for Fortune 500 clients in the retail space. Throughout Jaime’s 20 years at Mood Media, she’s been in various marketing, branding and sales leadership roles and has worked with global organizations to enhance in-store experiences through targeted brand initiatives and marketing strategies supported by customer insights and analytics.
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