In 2017 alone, retail has drastically shifted. Brick-and-mortar storefronts are closing and shoppers are doing an unprecedented amount of online shopping. But frowning upon customers for visiting shopping centers and scoping out products before returning home to buy them online for less shouldn’t be viewed as a demerit; rather the mark of a smart shopper. Punishing savvy consumers for taking pride in their craft isn’t a war worth waging. With the proliferation of smartphones, it’s already been won.
The ability to quickly search and compare prices puts every store without wifi and a digital strategy behind the curve, affecting the bottom line and long-term well-being of that institution. This digital economy has revolutionized the retail sphere, and with great technology at the forefront, retailers will either sink or swim, depending on how they mesh these two worlds together.
Whereas shopping online is a time-saving endeavor for busy adults who have limited time at their disposal, there are a number of advantages to shopping in-store. Aside from the engagement aspect, it’s also the only opportunity to interact with the product before bringing it home. With so few expendable hours in the day, shopping online makes time-strapped individuals’ daily grind that much easier. But in order to grow and compete, retailers must merge these two universes together. To do so, companies should create a symbiotic relationship between online marketplaces and brick-and-mortar locations — effectively marching them to the beat of the same drum.
Walmart recognized that their website was behind giants like Amazon and Overstock. Known for their brick-and-mortar locations, Walmart lacked cache as an online retailer. To better serve their existing customers and reach new ones online, Walmart acquired Jet.com to accelerate growth and diversify their inventory. For Walmart, the acquisition opened doors to a new type of shopper: one who purchased luxuries like Movado watches — beyond the bare bones of basic Walmart essentials. Walmart identified a growing trend: “shopping” today is more than perusing racks and aisles; it’s synonymous with searching online. Additionally, instead of alienating a subset of their patrons who value time over price, Walmart made it possible to achieve both in one destination. For smaller retailers that can’t quite shell out billions in capital, creativity is certainly another option.
Although a less than practical example, Korea’s Tesco re-invented grocery shopping with QR codes. Tesco plastered rail stations with posters that resembled the aisles and shelves of a supermarket, with the only difference being that shoppers couldn’t physically grab the product and check out. The food and products each have a QR code, which the shopper can scan with a smartphone camera and add to a digital shopping list. When the shopper has scanned the codes for all the groceries needed, they pay using their phone and the groceries are then delivered to their home. QR code-based shopping allows the customer to shop at more locations, many of which are more convenient than making a trip to the grocery store — all while waiting for the train home.
At a crossroads, the future of brick-and-mortar storefronts and traditional retail chains — as we know them — hang in the balance. In order to right the ship, retailers must appeal to a new breed of customers that value both time and price when shopping for goods and services. Having a presence online is no longer enough, as a customer’s journey is all-encompassing: a trip to the supermarket takes place both on and offline. Both sides of the coin matter equally.
This post is part of our contributor series. It is written and published independently of TNW.