With game-changing advances in technology and increasingly savvy and demanding customers, the global retail landscape is going through a seismic shift. Gone are the days of simply stocking shelves and waiting for shoppers to flock in – businesses today have to navigate a world of constant connectivity, rapidly evolving consumer behaviours, and tactics that are blurring the distinctions between digital and in-store customer experiences.
How has retail changed?
Quite fundamentally, is the answer. Compared to just a few years ago, we see today:
More informed shoppers
According to a recent Forbes report, 82% of customers now conduct their own research online before buying a product, negating the need for direct advice from sales assistants or shopping publications. This is also allowing businesses to target shoppers a lot earlier in their purchase journeys.
There are fewer and fewer reasons for customers to visit brick-and-mortar retail spaces these days. Whereas before they may have had to physically find stores to learn what products were available, now it is all happening with clicks and searches from the comfort of their home. A recent study by analytics firm comScore and UPS paints a telling picture: shoppers made 47% of all their purchases online in 2014, rising to 48% in 2015, and to 51% in 2016. Or in other words, online has now become the default method of shopping.
Incorporation of technology
A business not harnessing technology today is doomed for failure. Apps dedicated to shopping, ‘digital aisles’ and electronic payment transactions have not only transformed shopping experiences in general, they have completely changed customers’ expectations of brands – last year, Google found that 67% of shoppers wanted more virtual tours for business listings, and that those who viewed listings were twice as likely to then make an in-store visit.
More robust marketing channels
The proliferation of social media has impacted every industry, and retail is no exception. One of the biggest changes it has brought is the shift from one-way to two-way communications between brands and customers, opening up avenues of engagement in ways that were inconceivable just a few years ago. Analysts predict a 26.3% global increase on spending for social media by businesses this year, while social media ad spending is projected to exceed $35 billion – comprising 16% of all digital ad spending globally.
How can you use online channels to drive in-store footfall today?
Using existing online channels to get shoppers to make the online-to-offline switch does not have to be a complicated process. The key is consistency – a brand has to ‘speak’ to its customers using the same voice across all its channels in order to offer a consistent and recognizable experience at all stages of the buyer journey.
Sharing brand news and offers on social media and implementing tools such as local pages, online stock checks and SEO on websites can all help a business leverage this omnichannel, all-in-synch approach to drive in-store footfall. Of course, doing it successfully also necessitates a certain level of creativity and inventiveness on the part of the brand.
What will the retail landscape look like in coming years?
The state of flux the retail industry is currently experiencing will likely continue for some time, but there have been certain developments that help to give us a glimpse of the future:
In one year
Following on from recent retail trends, we will probably continue to see more and more assimilation of technology such as online ‘store tours’ and stock-checking, digital payment processes, ‘buy’ features on social media, and the roll-out of product deliveries by drone – a US study found that 32% of their shoppers are already willing to pay over $20 for same-hour drone deliveries.
In five years
Virtual-reality shopping experiences, examples of which can already be seen, will become common. We can expect physical retail spaces to be used more as pick-up points for shopped products, resulting in stores keeping less stock and generally shrinking in size. There will also be a focus on real-time marketing to customers, with retailers offering customized deals in real time based on the shopper’s behaviours and location at that moment.
In 10 years
Ten years on, technology that we are only beginning to see today will be universally used across the retail industry. This will include detailed and interactive in-store maps for customers, payments being transacted through facial recognition and iris scans (some businesses have already started to use customer selfies in a similar way), and ‘buy’ features on social media channels being provided across a much wider scale.
In 15 years
Beyond ten years, it becomes more difficult to predict. Certain developments do feel inevitable: ‘smart’ homes and appliances, products being 3D-printed from home, and more and more options for customers to ‘order what they see’ using shoppable features on media channels. One thing, however, is for certain: businesses looking to increase customer footfall, both online and offline, will need to find more and more ways to stay ahead of the curve.
How BRIDGE can help your organization
BRIDGE is a specialist SaaS (Software as a Service) provider, offering a full range of online-to-offline solutions to businesses looking to increase footfall in their stores. Learn more about how we can help you.