Online commerce is experiencing a huge growth since 2000: the 10% of all sales in the US were purchased online, and for the retail sector e-commerce is the segment with the highest growth rate, reaching a 15% per year in the UK. However, according to a research conducted by Veredict Retail and British Land, the 89% of UK consumers still prefer to buy in brick-and-mortar shops, and online–born companies such as Amazon or Bonobos are increasingly opening physical stores.
The answer to why the giants from the online world are offering a direct contact to the consumer by opening physical shops may be not unique, but according to the same research, it might have to do with the need of consumers to physically see and touch the products before buying, or their preference to deal with people, mostly when consumers feel the need of assistance. Additionally, problems in delivery & product return, plus the risk feeling on online shopping are still ticks against e-commerce, specially for expensive products. Even digital-born consumers under 35 declared to prefer physical shopping for items costing more $50.
Following the subject of competition between physical and online stores, the event “Voices” by fashion-specialist online magazine Business of Fashion held a debate titled How will stores of the future captivate the consumer?. It was a very interesting talk about the challenges of the retail sector in the next years, focusing on the fashion retail stores. There arose the need to convert the physical shops into facilities offering new experiences to consumers, in a way that online stores cannot replicate: sounds, smells, images, games, kindergarten, or event activities for kids such as a cooking school or environmental classes. Creativity and excellence should not be only applied to products, but also to the customers’ experience in the physical shop.
Thus, the process of buying is not longer being a direct path from the advertising to the product purchase, leaving way to a kind of conversation between the consumer and the vendor, which enriches both. The main purpose of customers visiting the shop would not be directly customers buying products, but happy customers coming back to the shop again to enjoy the experience. Those recurring visits may generate recurrent sales in the middle and long term.
Summarising, the “consumer journey” is changing and the point is how retailers are able to leverage the new journey to set a new relationship with consumers, which may eventually lead to boosting sales, but first requiring a longer and more complex process which may provide consumers with a joyful experience unable to live by alternative shopping methods, making them willing to go back to the physical store.