All together now: the physical and digital retailer

Article tagged with: Technology

Shoppers have always been in the driver’s seat, voting with their feet if a trusted store didn’t have the product, service, or convenience of a competitor. And when e-commerce became a thing, online became the biggest competitor of all, with shoppers stealthily – and then openly – standing in store but searching online for better prices. 

Yet online has not yet killed off physical stores, and more than 90% of retail purchases in the US are still made in brick-and-mortar locations. Intrepid retailers recognize that online can be an excellent complement instead of a hated competitor to physical stores, but what’s needed is the will, and the strategy. Clear thinking and a true commitment to integrating physical and online channels can deliver a huge first-mover advantage to retailers bold enough to make these strides forward.

Practical tips on performing this magical feat of integration can be found in the 2018 Retail Technology Innovation Index, a benchmark and analysis of technology solutions for retailers. Jump to the conclusions and recommendations for the Index’s five key areas where retailers need to execute in order to deliver this connected customer experience.

These include store usability, product taxonomy, performance and availability (including the ability to scale for seasonal peaks), search capability and personalization.

Usability in focus

It’s worth zooming in on usability in particular. As the Index advises, retailers mustn’t underestimate the importance of scientific design principles. Apply rigorous analysis to your data sources, including web analytics but also careful observation of in-store behavior, paths and dwell times, to see how shoppers use the physical space and the e-commerce shop. These are two utterly different environments, and shoppers may be in a different mindset in each space: but intuitive layout, user-centered design and fast and convenient checkout are always priorities, regardless of channel.

Personalization is the other point that caught our eye: few retailers have effectively mined the wealth of data coming out of POS and loyalty programs and overlaid this with online data to understand individual customers for the purposes of customizing product offerings. 

This could be because online was, at best, a grudgingly-welcomed channel for off-line stores; or it may be because rigid technology systems at the point-of-sale or behind loyalty programs offered no means of integration. This is the problem physical retailers must overcome; if off-line rich customer data can be matched with buying and browsing history from online commerce, the potential advantages for customers are striking. 

If off-line rich customer data can be matched with buying and browsing history from online commerce, the potential advantages for customers are striking. 

In some of its few physical bookshops, for example, Amazon has given special display space to titles with significant numbers of customer star ratings, and it also displays books cover-out instead of spine-out, inviting shoppers to scan the book’s barcode for more, richer product information. 

In the data jungle, Amazon is the top of the food chain, expertly leveraging what it knows to deliver a better customer experience – and, yes, to sell more stuff. What lessons can off-line retailers learn as they position themselves to make more of their data, to deliver better service?

You can read the entire Retail Technology Innovation Index 2018 here.



RIS News. (2018). Retail Technology Innovation Index 2018.

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