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GUEST COMMENT Retailers must digitise their in-store experience to remain competitive post-COVID

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With the majority of coronavirus restrictions in the UK now no longer in force, and with shoppers beginning to hurry back to the high street, it came as no surprise to see the British Retail Consortium report a 10% growth in in-store sales for June. According to other reports, our high streets could even see as many as 17,000 new stores open in the near future to take advantage of new hybrid working models made popular by the pandemic. As a result, footfall will no doubt continue to rise as customers head back to normality and the UK begins to get back on its feet.

Given the country’s widespread vaccination programme, there is now a newfound feeling of post-pandemic confidence that is encouraging shoppers to return to stores and browse as they used to, as opposed to trawling through items online. That said, consumer habits have changed over the past 16 months and even the most opposed to ecommerce enjoyed its advantages during the pandemic. To remain competitive, retailers must now digitise their in-store experience and tailor it to those of us who spent our lockdowns shopping almost entirely online via a variety of different marketplaces and ecommerce platforms. The future of retail is a hybrid of the two.

While the growth of in-store sales is clear and has been helped considerably by the easing of restrictions, retailers shouldn’t neglect the importance of digital. If the last year-and-a-half has taught us anything, it’s that online shopping is now firmly a preferred method of purchasing for more consumers than ever before. Consequently, retailers wishing to both capitalise on the post-COVID spending spree and remain relevant need to ensure they augment their in-store offering to create a seamless omnichannel experience for shoppers, mindful of the way they prefer to shop. In essence, in-store shopping needs to resonate with online shoppers more.

Online shopping is clearly here to stay, with global ecommerce sales expected to hit around $4.2 trillion by the end of 2021. Therefore, as we see a return to in-store shopping, retailers must take their focus away from the traditional high street model and channel their efforts into digitising their stores. Consumers will be putting digital first, so in order to capture both new and existing customers, the priority for retailers must be on implementing digital innovations in-store to deliver an unrivalled omnichannel approach that their competitors simply cannot match.

But what’s in store for the future of in-store shopping? Evolving the experience will be imperative to post-pandemic survival. As consumers, we’ve gotten used to brands going above and beyond to meet our needs in an online world. So, the retailers that think strategically and choose to go the extra mile to serve their customers will be the ones that thrive in the new retail landscape.

Top tips for leveraging in-store digitisation

Better manage product data

The way that retailers take advantage of and utilise data will revolutionise the in-store experience. To keep up with demand and the shift in consumer spending habits, vendors must maintain full control of their data across all platforms. The digital space is continuing to evolve, and this is opening up new avenues for retailers to target customers across the likes of social commerce channels and online marketplaces. For that reason, retailers must invest in solutions that enable them to manage their product data efficiently. With the help of a feed management tool, retailers can control all of their data through one centralised platform, enabling them to manage inventory levels, increase the time-to-market, and boost efficiencies online and offline. 

As online shopping and in-store footfall continue to grow, it’s vital that retailers implement the right solutions to keep up with customer demand. Data insights are the backbone of a digital in-store experience and can help retailers to better understand what their consumers are looking for. For instance, data from internet searches, analytics from social media, and product data can all be analysed to get to know the customer behind the screen and evolve in-store digitisation.

Enhance flexibility for customers

As we move out of the pandemic, customers will be looking for increased flexibility going forward, and while some shoppers will be happy to return to stores as normal, some may not feel comfortable walking around a busy shop. By offering a Buy Online Pick-up In-Store (BOPIS) option, retailers can offer an enhanced level of convenience for more cautious consumers who’d prefer to be in and out, doing the majority of their browsing online. For those that are more comfortable, this scheme also gives retailers a chance to increase footfall, as BOPIS methods encourage customers to browse further when they visit the store to collect their online orders.

Evolve digitisation in-store

The future of the in-store experience starts with digitisation. The competition has never been fiercer among other retailers and potential customers, with rising expectations from both parties. To encourage shoppers back in-store, a customer-centric store design is crucial, and brands will need to invest in new technologies like AR, AI, VR and facial recognition to facilitate this experience. Furthermore, QR codes have regained popularity in retail and have been used to tailor the in-store experience. Scanning a code can help to persuade a customer to make a purchase by providing video, imagery, or additional product information that enable more informed purchasing decisions to be made.

Leverage Google and Facebook’s local inventory ads

Searches for “shopping near me” have grown 3x in the past two years, making it worthwhile for retailers to leverage Google and Facebook’s local inventory ads to personalise the user experience and capitalise on increased search traffic. These free tools let shoppers know whether local stores have stock while also providing all-important details on opening times, directions, website, and any currently running offers or sales periods. Whether for a small or large retailer, local inventory ads can help to get products in front of the right audience and should not be ignored.

With restrictions lifted and normality right on the horizon, retailers are going to have to rethink their omnichannel strategies to remain relevant post-COVID. Technology trends were accelerated by the pandemic and have reshaped the future of the retail industry, with customers now looking for new ways to interact with brands. To remain future-proofed, retailers must invest in the right solutions that leverage data and digital to drive a seamless omnichannel approach.


Marcel Hollerbach, Chief Innovation Officer at Productsup

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