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It’s All About the Experience

December 13, 2016
By Emily Bobko, Precima

For retailers, the traditional border between online and in-store experiences has been crossed – and in many cases, virtually eliminated. Many high-profile brands have broken down the divide between digital and brick-and- mortar to provide a more consistent, integrated experience for consumers.

Though brick-and-mortar traffic continues to decline, the channel still holds the vast majority of retail sales, as reflected in the 2016 Epsilon Holiday Shopping survey – which found that 87% of shoppers are still very likely to purchase at stores. And cross-channel shoppers – those who check in-store as well as at least one online channel – account for 38% of all purchases, according to a 2016 comScore survey for UPS.

Conventional wisdom says millennials are digitally exclusive. In fact, 52% of them consider the option to buy products online very important when deciding where to shop, according to the 2016 NRF Retail Holiday Planning Playbook. However, 82% of them actually prefer brick-and- mortar experiences, LoyaltyOne found in its 2016 Generational Study.

Many retailers have leveraged online and in-store tactics to connect with customers and give them a unique and seamless brand experience. The integrated approach eradicates the traditional distinctions between the channels and is evidenced by:

E-tailers opening stores

Notable online brands like Warby Parker, Bonobos and Birchbox have opened physical locations. Blue Nile, a jewelry company with a 17-year online history, is opening more showrooms after a recent trial run. In some cases, e-tailers are partnering with department stores like Neiman Marcus and Nordstrom to offer product-focused kiosks or sections. It’s a mutually beneficial situation that generates foot traffic while giving consumers a chance to touch, feel and look before they make a purchase.

Store designs focusing on experiences

Samsung’s flagship New York City store includes a community center that hosts events ranging from running clubs to Oscar-night movie screenings. It also houses an art gallery, multimedia studio and café. Target’s Open House concept shows consumers how internet-connected devices work together through a series of interactive room vignettes, all inside a giant Lucite house. At Nike’s recently opened New York City store, visitors can try out new products on a basketball court that uses built-in sensors to provide real-time feedback as they receive personal attention from a staff member. In each case, these in-store installations have been reimagined to integrate digital experiences and create a seamless link between digital and physical platforms.

Bridging the gap with virtual reality (VR)

Volvo’s Virtual Reality XC90 Test Drive was one of the first car brands to capitalize on technology by letting consumers take to the streets without leaving the room. In the home furnishings category, Lowe’s Holoroom allows participants to try out new appliances while IKEA’s in-app, pilot VR Experience on Steam enables customers to virtually build and create their kitchen. Wayfair.com created a digital catalog of 3-D products with an augmented reality app where customers can see how the brand’s products look in their homes. VR combines the convenience of digital access with the benefits of interaction — bringing the digital and in-store experiences even closer together.

As brands continue seeking and investing in ways to make their customer experiences more compelling, the lines between formerly separate channels are disappearing. In particular, online and in-store efforts are converging in creative and innovative ways. Though this integrated approach is currently primarily the domain of high-profile brands, as technology develops and consumer acceptance grows, the practices will become widespread. Ultimately, the goal is the same: an optimal customer experience at every touchpoint.

EmilyBobko_headshot
Emily Bobko is director of marketing for Precima.
She can be reached at ebobko@precima.com.

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