Hybrid retail – the key to survival

Chris Purcell, Product Strategist at Episerver 

Despite several months of doom and gloom for the retail industry, sales finally saw an increase last month as non-essential shops were allowed to finally reopen their doors in England.

But high street stores are still under a significant amount of pressure as consumers remain hesitant to shop due to the health risks around COVID-19, which very much remain.

While the return of the high street is a positive step forward, the traditional shopping experience is unlikely to return to how it was before the pandemic hit. Not only are shoppers cautious about returning to shop floors, it’s currently compulsory to wear face masks. Stores are having to take considerable measures to ensure social distancing remains in place too — from one-way store layouts, the closure of fitting rooms and limiting footfall.

So what does this mean for the industry going forward, and how can retailers succeed in such a fragile time?

Combining the online and offline experience 

With at least three months of enforced store closures, consumers quickly began to embrace the convenience of being able to shop from the comfort of their own home.

This habit is also likely to continue, and while this is positive news for ecommerce brands, the physical shopping experience still has some appeal — which has been made apparent by recent images of busier high streets and long store queues.

As we continue our journey into a post-COVID world, we’ll see a hybrid approach to retailing emerge. Offline and online experiences will be brought together in a way they haven’t been before — a symbiotic relationship that will allow both to thrive, if the right strategy is applied.

Embracing omnichannel

To keep up with these new hybrid shopping habits, retailers will need to evaluate their current omnichannel strategy. The key is to ensure that strategies are clearly aligned with evolving customer demands and embrace a truly omnichannel approach, where experiences are consistent, integrated and satisfying at every stage in the browsing and buying journey.

After months of enjoying the ease of shopping online, consumers will now expect to receive an in-store experience that either matches up to this convenience or offers something more appealing that they could only get in person.

There are a number of ways that retailers can bring together the benefits of both the on and offline worlds. For example, through click & collect, using the Buy Online, Pick-Up in Store model.

This enables retailers to give customers the convenience and ease of online shopping, but encourage a drive in in-store footfall, ensuring consumers engage directly with the brand in its physical environment.

Another approach is creating the in-store experience online. For example, retailers can bring personalisation and interaction with customers by offering virtual appointments, allowing sales representatives the opportunity to help shoppers find the products they’re interested in.

According to our latest research, nine out of 10 consumers would be happy to share personal data with retailers if it meant they received more personalised experiences.

The line between online and offline retail experiences continues to blur more and more each day. Shoppers don’t want to have to choose between online retail and physical store buying opportunities — they want to be able to create their own personalised shopping experiences using the best of both worlds.

To survive in a post-COVID era and set up for future success, retailers need to take this opportunity to rethink their strategies and embrace a hybrid approach that seamlessly combines the very best of the online and offline shopping experiences.

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