Years ago, when we walked into a store, it would often be the first time we’d laid eyes on a product. We’d browse, ask the assistant questions and get sold to.
But today we’re no longer looking to the sales assistant for answers. Thanks to online we’re no longer the passive ‘consumers’ but inquisitive and informed explorers roaming the high street.
By the time we hit the stores we’ve read reviews, found the best deal and made a shortlist of our potential purchases. On average customers will have touched your brand 56 times between inspiration and transaction (Cisco, 2010), making their first store visit at a much later point in their consumer journey than ever before.
When we visit a store we’re there to touch, play and experience - we’re looking for reassurance about the decisions we’ve already made online.
So let’s see what this means for retailers and take a look at how the online and offline worlds aren’t just co-existing but converging...
Death of the high street?
Contrary to the naysayers the birth of digital does not mean the death of the high street. We don’t live in a black and white world with binary choices between offline or online. What’s happening is that the online and offline worlds are merging. Due to mass use of smartphones, the consumer flicks effortlessly between clicks and bricks bouncing off multiple online and offline touch points on their way to purchase.
Customers consume a wealth of information fed to them via email, social media, ratings and reviews, price comparison sites, blogs and video demonstrations. A consumer’s journey is now littered with interactions and it’s estimated that 8/10 people have interacted with a brand or product online before they walk in-store (Deloitte, 2015).
As we’re more informed by the time we walk into a store, we’re more likely to commit. It’s estimated that digitally influenced consumers convert at a 20% higher rate than those who don’t use digital as part of their shopping process (Deloitte, 2015). This means it’s in retailers’ interests to offer customers more digital touch points to help nudge the consumer along their journey to purchase.
Mobile pushing boundaries
The digital influence doesn’t stop once we get on the high-street. Recent research by Google suggests that 82% of customers consult their phones for a purchase they’re about to make in the shop (Google, 2015). Whether this means using your mobile to find a store, reading reviews, using near-field technology, augmented reality, QR codes or viewing product information online, digital offers a virtual helping hand to the consumer with their in-store purchases. And as smartphones evolve, the boundaries of marketing are pushed further.
What does the future hold?
So what is the future of the high-street then? Will we be whizzing around on hoverboards with Google glasses visiting click and collect outlets served by robots? Or will Amazon be delivering everything within the hour to our doorstep with drones? Sounds exciting but it’s doubtful whether this will become reality anytime soon.
The future of retail and digital is very different depending on what sector you’re operating in. 73% of consumers like to physically examine bulky purchases such as bicycles, garden tools and furniture (PWC, 2016) meaning there may always be a place for ‘showrooms’. However 69% of consumers prefer to purchase ‘standardised items’ such as books, music and electronics online (PWC, 2016). So the kind of goods sold on the high street will change but you’ve probably already guessed that from the disappearance of the single channel retailers like Blockbuster or HMV.
However, regardless of sector something technology finds it hard to replicate alone is emotional connection with customers. And visiting a store and getting personal customer service is probably the easiest way to evoke an emotional connection. Many have argued that it’s this emotion that’s the biggest influencing factor of brand perception (Cisco, 2010). You can get a dopamine hit from viewing and purchasing things on your phone but it’s not quite the same as experiencing the product in your hands. Even internet retail giant Amazon seem to have realised this by opening their first physical store in Seattle just last year.
So maybe as long as the battle of the brands continues, there will always be a place for some sort of high-street presence with an increasing digital influence. And more importantly maybe it’s time to admit there’s no such thing as offline and online anymore - they’re simply inseparable in the customer’s mind.
If you’d like to find out more about how consumers interact with your brand then take a look at our PureIntelligence solution - designed to give you a single customer view on your customers' entire journey to purchase.