E-commerce has put traditional retail under lots of pressure, spurring debate which form of shopping will come on top as the winner. However, the question is not whether online or offline shopping wins eventually, but how retailers can best blend both worlds together. Industry consensus is that seamless omnichannel organisations are the future of retail. As a result, physical retailers are expanding their online presence and e-commerce pure-players are opening shops in the streets.
Many people are quick to point to the new role offline stores will play in omnichannel organisations, and how this will enable physical retailers to deliver new types of offerings to their customers. Although it is true that better omnichannel integrations do offer exciting opportunities, it is important not to forget why people are shopping at physical stores in the first place.
We are not saying physical retailers should not look into the new omnichannel opportunities. But they should keep looking at their own strengths as well. Physical retail does not have to change all that they have been doing. There are ways for stores to fit our digital age and stay close to their core at the same time. Stores can provide staff with tablets to quickly find relevant information and help customers conveniently check out (the two main things that shoppers want to see improved, according to an extensive PwC study).
Physical stores have a unique set of strengths that will convince customers to keep coming to stores. They still offer benefits to customers that are difficult to facilitate online. Additionally, it is not a single feature that customers like about offline shopping. It is the mix that appeals to them. This are the six reasons why people will keep shopping in physical stores.
1. Because physical shopping is more accessible
Digitization has made our lives easier in numerous ways, but sometimes it can also make life more complicated. Online shopping offers almost unlimited choice. However, this choice overload can also paralyze people (as beautifully described in Barry Schwartz’s book ‘The paradox of choice’). Physical stores help customers by offering a selection of the best and most popular articles only. This curation helps to focus on the essentials and prevents people from getting lost in the process.
Not all customers embrace the new technological innovations. A majority of people prefers to purchase their products in-store (PwC, 2016). For these people it is easier to enter a physical store to find what they need, than to go through the clutter of shopping online. And if needed, there is always a member of staff to guide them. Additionally, shopping in physical stores is often part of a common routine or even lifestyle. People go to shops, because they are used to it. Alternatively, it is easy to combine with other routines, such as a daily commute to work. These offline shopping habits can be powerful and difficult to break.
2. To be able to use all senses to experience products
Shopping is more than just determining your preferences, comparing product specifications, and looking for the lowest price. Shopping involves both the left and right side of the brain. People want both a rational and an emotional confirmation that this product suits them best. They want to know how steering this new car feels, or how that perfume smells, how this couch sits, or that blazer fits. Some information can simply not be obtained online. Shopping is a multi-sensory experience. A study by A.T. Kearney shows that consumers have a near unanimous preference for trying and testing products in a physical store. People are able to make more accurate judgements about products in a physical store.
3. When talking to a person is better
People are social animals and crave for the human interaction. Although computers can often provide them with what they are looking for, many consumers still like to talk to a real person for the subtle nuances of a face-to-face conversation. Nonetheless, in-store staff have more to offer than only social or sentimental value. Many store employees are recognized for their priceless product expertise, especially when characteristics are not easy to grasp on a spec sheet. Nonetheless, there is a trend away from memorizing countless facts about products, towards helping customers to put all this information in a context. The role of retail staff in a digital age is changing, but not becoming less important (RetailDIVE, 2016). Sales staff can tailor recommendations to the specific situation and needs of the individual customer. They can provide a knowledgeable second opinion to the information found online or elaborate on the new trends in the market, as a starting point for a relevant conversation with the customer.
Sales staff can save customers considerable amounts of time. Consumers often have to educate themselves about the products. Finding a new product online can take hours of studying all the new features, comparing the differences, and deciding what fits the situation best. Talking to a member of staff can save a lot of time. Equipping staff with new technologies can help build trust. They summarize the newest trends in minutes and provide a shortcut by selecting only the few most relevant products, fit to the customers’ needs. In-store staff is the more personalized, more human, and arguably quicker alternative to online shopping.
4. Because shopping is an exciting experience
To many customers, shopping also provides a lot of entertainment. People enjoy to go shopping, and shops on their part organize all kinds of activities to make shopping even more enjoyable. Fashion stores hire DJs to attract more public, people can follow cooking workshops in kitchen shops, or attend a book signing session with their favorite author in their local book store. As a result, physical stores are still ideal places for impulse purchases, leaving consumers with a feeling of immediate gratification.
Although some may hate it, plenty of people thoroughly enjoy the selection process of the perfect product. Finding the ideal dinner table can be a true adventure or people go hunt for that rare comic book. Physical stores offer them inspiration, reveal unknown desires, and showcase products they would not have found otherwise. Offering stand-out and surprising customer experiences will keep customers coming to the store. And that is just a first step towards repeat purchases, higher profitability, and superfans recommending the store to friends and relatives.
5. When time is of the essence
Nobody likes waiting, especially when you just found the product you love. Some people simply cannot wait a day or three to have the webstore’s parcel delivered. They want it now and go to their local shop to get it. And although same-day delivery is growing for a small range of articles, this will likely remain prohibitively expensive for many retailers (or customers). Another reason to visit a physical store is when timing accuracy is important. People hate the mismatch between delivery times and their own schedules (AT Kearney, 2016). Collecting a product in your favorite store is often less hassle than managing a parcel delivery time slot, hunting down a missed delivery, or making a detour to collect it.
6. For the trusted service after the purchase
The role of the store is indispensable if the product turns out to be less than perfect. Consumers tend to entrust their purchase more often with the brands that have been there for decades. It provides a familiar place to go to if they want to ask a question, leave a complaint, or return a product. Many customers prefer to deal with these issues in-store, even when they bought it online. The customer preferences study by A.T. Kearney clearly shows that consumers still choose service in their local store over online. Physical stores provide a great signal to customers that they are always available for them, not only to register their purchase, but also for every service request.