Remodelling the concept of physical shopping

Remodelling the concept of physical shopping

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As retailers continue to grapple with the transformation of the industry, they must work harder than ever to attract customers through their doors. Increasingly cautious consumers are holding on to their discretionary spend in light of turbulent economic factors, heightened now by the significant impact of the global health crisis.

Post By Craig Bennett -
Even prior to the Covid-19 pandemic in the UK, the entire concept of physical shopping was changing.  Buyer behaviours have become less predictable, expectations of bricks and mortar stores are higher with experiential retail driving the agenda and omnichannel has become the minimum standard.
It’s an interesting concept that certainly plays to the channel shift that has been so prevalent in 2020.  However, there is a more immediate buyer behaviour to deal with as consumers look for more creative ways to get their shopping fix.  With ecommerce still under considerable pressure and delivery times extended, there is room for stores to be the convenient option. The question is whether retailers are ready to adapt the way their stores work to put convenience front and centre.
When talking about the role of physical stores, retail futurist Doug Stephens commented, “In the future, all but the most convenience-based retailers will begin to use their stores as media to acquire customers and their media platforms as stores to transact sales.  Put another way, media is now a cost of sales and rent is now a cost of customer acquisition. Retailers that miss or ignore this shift will do so at their peril.”

Making the most of omnichannel

Buyer journeys have changed significantly, with consumers making less trips to stores and spending more time online. As a result, services like ‘click and collect’ are rising in popularity and demand as they fulfil a customer-centric need for convenience and ease.

As of 2020, at least 80 per cent of retail shops offered click-and-collect, increasing by 32% since 2019, according to data from Statista earlier this year. Meanwhile, GlobalData states that the click-and-collect market in the UK is forecast to reach £9.6 billion in 2022, accounting for 13.9% of online sales.

Retailers are already looking at how they can evolve the concept.  It’s a bread and butter service for large food retailers and even for many high street retailers from fashion to catalogue retail and its appeal is spreading.  A number of global retailers, including Walmart, Nike and Tesco, are implementing click and collect check-in systems that allow them to know exactly when their customers have arrived so they can get orders to them faster, whether in-store or at the kerbside.  Some stores are even offering ‘click-to-car’, a click-and-collect service where you can order from your home or car, and staff will bring your order right out to your parking bay.

To support social distancing at this essential time and to leverage this future omni-channel growth area, retailers should look to perfect their click and collect experience and demonstrate its value and convenience to customers.

Reimagining browsing and buying

The ability to ‘browse and buy’ is a key benefit of physical shopping.  For many, there is an emotional satisfaction to visiting a store purely to discover new things, to be inspired and to try before buying.  It’s an experience that just can’t achieved with an online transaction.  While this has become more challenging in the current climate, is should not mean that retailers can’t continue to meet these needs; it just needs approaching differently.

Evolving the concept of personal shopping to an appointment-based approach means retailers can still reach discerning customers who expect to receive guidance and support as part of their shopping experience but without the worry of doing so in a busy retail environment.

There is also an opportunity for retailers to offer bespoke private showings, either in store or virtually, to help customers discover new products, brands and styles that are a personal match to their style, based on customer profiling data.

Drawing from the success of the beauty sector, the idea of a subscription box approach where multiple items are shipped to a client based on their likes and preferences is also increasing in its appeal for both retailers and consumers.  It’s a clever way to create a feeling of browsing whilst the customer is in the comfort and safety of their own home via a model that assumes the items will be purchased unless action is taken by the customer to return.

The beauty of this approach lies in the crossover between being able to complete a buying journey away from the retail store but with the feeling of support and personalisation that personal shopping brings.  As emotional responses go, it’s as close to instore browsing as it can be.

Forging new partnerships

In another change to buyer behaviour, where a customer needs to visit a store, they are increasingly selecting those which are within easy reach.  Alongside this, the focus on working from home means areas that traditionally rely on commuters or tourists are much quieter than usual.  This is creating a difficult landscape for retailers who don’t have a large store footprint or that are located away from residential areas.

This is leading to a rise in retail partnerships, bringing together relationships of convenience to access locations or footfall that otherwise would be unachievable.  Department store stalwart John Lewis has recently announced it is expanding its click-and-collect partnership with grocery retailer Co-op. This service was already offered in 105 Co-op stores, but it will now be available in another 400 across the UK.  As a result, John Lewis has been able to more than double its click-and-collect locations, making shopping with them more convenient for people who don’t live near a main store.

The same applies to Sainsbury’s; a partnership with garden centre brand Dobbies means over 3,000 products will be available in locations that would be otherwise inaccessible to the supermarket brand.  It’s also an astute move given the jump in visits to garden centres, which means a large audience, and the tendency for customers to make fewer shopping journeys as this means they can fulfil their grocery needs without going to another store. It’s offering convenience through combined shopping journeys.

Physical retail has some clear advantages over other types of selling ranging. People like to have some physical involvement in the things that they buy; it’s why consumers would rather go to a supermarket and pick their own food than buy online and have it delivered. Physically engaging with a product and a brand increases the connection with it.

While the traditional idea of the store may be struggling, physical retailing is alive and well and full of possibility.  It just needs thinking about a little differently.


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