We didn’t realise it at the time, but prior to the pandemic there was a defined line in most consumers’ minds between social networks and e-commerce. And while this line blurred at times, there was also a sense that bricks-and-mortar shopping offered a more exciting experience than ordering on Amazon. Little did we realise that the pandemic would flip all of that around and re-shape the high street and entire retail sector.
Retail shopping represented legacy investments that retailers were loth to undermine. As a consequence, neither retailers nor their customers had much of an incentive to shun them – Covid-19 changed that.
What we are now witnessing is a new form of retail architecture: social commerce. Although this has been prevalent in China for sometime now, it has only just started surfacing in the west and is rapidly gaining momentum.
Meshing live-streaming, short-form video and social-networking allows brands to show a product either being crafted or demonstrated. Influencers take this further showcasing how the item is worn or used and friends review it on social media, leading to a network of real-world businesses delivering the purchases.
Everything we have ever experienced is being turned into a digital platform, from shops, entertainment venues, food courts, games arcades through to gathering places – entire shopping malls can now be replicated in digital form.
But physical shopping is still in consumers’ blood. The lockdowns and social distancing have highlighted just how much most of us miss social interaction and the personalised service we can get from entering a store.
This is ushering in an era of increased hybrid shopping. Of course, this is not a new phenomenon: bricks and mortar brands were already experimenting with digital overlays prior to 2020. However, the pandemic has hastened our need to revise our physical shopping experiences.
Only a few years ago retailers were focusing on ways to encourage consumers to shop in their stores. Rather than Showrooming, the growing realisation that resisting digital advances is pointless has led to the only logical conclusion – to fully embrace and harness digital and weave it into the physical shopping experience.
As a consequence, we are seeing a rash of in-store experiences designed to provoke online ordering and vice versa. Taking an adaptive marketing approach such as this requires retail brands to listen to their customers and ensure they have every possible platform available for making their purchase decision and then making that purchase.
Nothing new there. But the resistance to e-commerce meant bricks and mortar retailers took some time to seamlessly integrate digital throughout the shopping experience. The pandemic has now accelerated this.
Now we are starting to get a sense of what evolved phygical will look like as brands respond to the fast-changing business landscape by customising their tactics to digital patronage and social media is rapidly maturing into a key player to achieve this.
Imagine a store where the customer activates digital touchscreens next to each product that activate consumer product reviews from across the web into one place. Alternatively the customer scans a QR code next to any product and receives the aggregated reviews directly on their smartphone.
Social media will increasingly play a key role in a landscape where customers can readily tap into the wider ecosystem to check product reviews before making a purchase. It is already happening – C&A in Brazil uses smart hangers to display how many people online think the garment is a good buy. Shoppers can then consider that input as they browse the store aisles, opting between a popular shirt with more than 1,000 likes or to go under-the-radar and pick the one with just a few hundred likes.
Other retailers have tailored digital to showcase their unique brand message such as luxury fashion brand Rebecca Minkoff whose flagship stores have interactive screens on the main floor and in the fitting rooms that allows customers to flip through look books or order a free coffee or glass of champagne.
According to research by Wharton, customers who initially shopped online but later changed and visited the physical store spend up to 60 per cent more on average. As a result, phygital retail has actually lengthened customers’ patronage spans in the stores, allowing salespersons more time to understand consumers’ needs, explain product features in details and upsell them to other products.
When digital overlays were first introduced they added a futuristic-feel to shopping as we know it – they were fun but they may not have changed our shopping experience. Now, having spent months with online shopping as our only retail experience, there has been a paradigm shift in the way consumers view shopping and it has digital sitting at its heart rather than bolted on as a fancy extra.
Quite apart from consumer’s openness to trial new shopping tech is the consumers’ desire to know more about the environmental impact of the products they purchase – something that is increasingly being embedded into digital content. From a social media perspective we are seeing an upward trend across all social platforms when fashion brands share their shifts towards increased sustainability. Our global awareness around the urgent need to reduce our carbon footprint has become a business imperative across all sectors and consumers are keen to share these positive stories that boost brand awareness beyond their actual fashion statements.
The pandemic has propelled social shopping forward and astute retailers will be those who now transform their bricks and mortar world into an exciting experience that crosses all boundaries. Digital marketers can no longer afford to have separate strategies for retail, e-commerce and social. The entire shopping experience has to be multi-layered and interlinked if tomorrow’s consumers are to enjoy an improved user experience.