Joris Kroese, CEO and Founder of Hatch
Brick and mortar retail is not dying – from purchase options to in-store technology, omni-channel is playing a pivotal role in sustaining physical stores.
In the first quarter of 2020, the way we shopped changed overnight due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Non-essential brick-and-mortar businesses and hospitality venues closed, and life as we knew it was put on hold. Brands and retailers needed to be two things to weather the storm: forward-thinking and online.
Last year, eCommerce saw its biggest annual growth since 2008, and omnichannel retail is what saved many businesses that would’ve otherwise gone under. Omnichannel is our present and is most definitely the future, with most retailers today offering click and collect, next day delivery and in-store returns, among other options.
Brick and mortar prevails
The death of brick and mortar retail has been on the cards for years, and after the year it has endured, you’d have thought it would’ve become a sunken ship by now. But it hasn’t. In fact, data shows that brick and mortar retail sales in the US have been steadily increasing. And while some consumers may be slightly hesitant to go back to in-store shopping, it’s top of the list for many. A survey carried out by Gekko prior to stores reopening in the UK revealed that 70 percent of people were planning on visiting stores as much or more than they did before the pandemic.
Transformation rather than extinction
Some believe that rather than causing the extinction of brick and mortar retail, the pandemic has simply accelerated eCommerce growth and the closure of stores that may have happened as a result of digital transformation anyway. The way people shop has been changing for a while now, and the brands and retailers that hadn’t made steps to move with the times were always going to be the first to go.
Omnichannel: A hybrid between offline and online retail
Omnichannel retail is something we’ve all become accustomed to in the last decade, and it’s what will keep physical stores going in years to come. We’re likely to see various hybrid retail set-ups going forward, and physical stores will be central to this.
- Buy-online-pick-up-in-store/click-and-collect/curbside pick-up
Buy online and pick-up in-store options have become increasingly popular throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, and their convenience means consumers will continue using these options, even now that normality has returned to most of the world. Something else brands are implementing to aid the customer purchase journey is ‘Where to Buy’ technology, which allows consumers to choose where they purchase and collect products.
- Buy online, return in-store
Purchasing online and returning to store is another hybrid retail model that’s popular with consumers. Packaging your returns up, mailing them off and having to wait for a refund is a hassle. Returning unwanted items to a nearby store and getting a refund almost instantly is much more convenient.
- Instant delivery
Consumers are impatient, so if they’re unable to get to a local store to collect an item themselves, they’ll usually look for a quick delivery option. Standard delivery feels like a lifetime to most consumers, so next day and instant delivery (same day, within a few hours) is the future. To offer this service, brands are beginning to use their local stores as mini distribution centres and leveraging their proximity to customers.
- In-store experiences
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, we saw many brick and mortar retailers entice shoppers into their stores via immersive experiences, such as VR implementations or interactive events. This experiential approach to retail is likely to be the way forward for many brick and mortar businesses, driving in-store footfall and increasing brand confidence and sales.
- In-store technology
Technology entices customers in-store in the same way that immersive experiences and convenient purchase options do. In-store technology, such as ‘scan as you shop’, self-service checkouts and tablets, can make the buying journey both quicker and simpler for consumers.
I believe that omnichannel retail plays a vital role in sustaining brick and mortar businesses. Today, retail is about more than focusing on solo sales channels. It’s about being where your customers are and providing them with the best possible purchase options. If we can come up with creative strategies to drive shoppers online, why can’t we drive online customers in-store?
True omni-channel puts the customer at the forefront, allowing them to decide where to purchase from. With this approach, I believe that brands will be able to sustain all their channels for the foreseeable future – including brick and mortar stores.