Hybrid retail experiences in the post-Covid era

People strolling in and out of stores a year ago couldn’t have imagined what lay ahead. The retail industry in the US had reported poor sales resulting in the closure of thousands of physical stores nationwide. Forbes picked out some details from a recent UBS Investment study, citing 75,000 brick-and-mortar store closures by 2026 end.

Even with such numbers, around 88.6% of stores were still running in the fourth quarter in 2019. This explains why the pandemic resulted in a full-scale and unprecedented retail disruption. According to Industry analysts, if retail owners had moved to predominantly digital models in their marketing strategy, the setback wouldn’t have been all that bad. It is because people would be able to continue shopping. Instead, 92 percent of consumers said that their shopping had been affected.  

There is some hope for the future of retail marketing strategy. Because buyers move from the in-store over to online shopping and that COVID-19 helped further this transition. As the retail industry continues to navigate a watershed moment, businesses are doing all that they can to mark their presence in an increasingly digital world. Initially, it was tough and expensive to change the in-store experience and recreate various in-store aspects online.

Hybrid retail experiences

The pandemic accelerating digital transformation and adoption making it easier to provide a digital store on devices. Technology has advanced since then. So, what should retail sales leaders do to emerge stronger from steadily declining sales numbers in physical stores made worse by COVID-19? The creation of Hybrid retail experiences was the result of technological experimentation and the need to fill the gaps.

This kind of retail approach includes the development of an omnichannel retail marketing strategy. It gives the users the ability to merge experiences from mobile-browsing, high street stores, and other related channels. It is by no means an easy task as retail brands do face challenges in creating the marketing strategy that could deliver this experience. Research shows that consumers value shopping in different ways. And the brands that don’t approach them via these different ways or create Hybrid retail experiences for them. Thus those brands end up losing sales opportunities.

Another retail property report developed by Revo, GlobalData, and CACI shows sales numbers grow quickly when done online. Whereas, 86% of sales involve physical stores when compared with the 14% that’s online. This shows that retailers still prefer a retail marketing strategy, operating both online and offline but separately. For today’s digital world, brands shouldn’t rely solely on inertia, but instead, push offerings on each of these multiple channels. Retailers should maintain a uniform look, highlight value and relevancy to their buyers. This will prevent these multiple channel offerings from confusing consumers.

John Zealley, Accenture’s senior managing director and global lead ofcustomer insight and growth practice mentioned a similar concept. ‘’If you aren’t relevant to them, the consumer can easily look for the things they need elsewhere. A lot of the biggest brands are suffering because consumers don’t feel passionate about them.

What Zealley tries to highlight is that other than a value proposition and multiple offerings under one roof, retail brands also need to take up increased responsiveness towards innovation and intelligent interactions in the online arena as well.

Stephen Hewett, Capgemini’s VP & head of retail customer engagement and loyalty says ‘’retail in the future will be largely about aholistic experience; it will also entail merging the best aspects of each shopping channel, sparking the evolution of the omnichannel.’’ 

In other words, the hybrid retail marketing strategy is powered by value propositions, and attracting buyers to stores by offering them unique, personalized experiences that can’t be enjoyed easily and that showcase their products. Hybrid is the way retailers can operate in the future; Zealley adds that ‘’There is a huge amount of latent engagement with consumers in the future. Retailers could improve wholesomeness by providing room, eateries, and bars where shoppers can relax and experience products on offer.”    

For retailers, putting such measures into practice entails setting up fewer retail shops; the main aim for them would be to focus on quality over quantity. They could even selectin-store merchandise for display, based on the ongoing trends or the buyer’s ability to purchase personalized products. 

Pete Ballard, the CEO of Foolproof says that incorporating the best of online and offline shopping in both channels can be replicated inside a physical store using technology. That technology includes NFC (near-field communication) chips on price tags to create Hybrid retail experiences. Consumers scan the tags using smartphones and receive product information, alternatives, matching items, suggested accessories, or even try out the scanned item virtually.

In this way, the advantages of the online shopping world can be brought into the physical store shopping ecosystem. Such Hybrid retail experiences might even be better than online shopping because the buyer can see the quality, feel the materials of items.  

Such plus points are useful to the buyer who would prefer to budget their purchasing, acquire more value per item orsimplyavoid trying out the items physically – a benefit that comes in handy with social distancing. Retailers can even utilize this hybrid technology in their marketing strategyto take the shopping experience a step further.

For example, retailers could use the same technology to offer mobile or online payments andhome delivery to speed up the buying process.An example to prove the worth of this retail marketing strategy is the Chinese WeChatmobile payments app. This app can be used in physical stores through a system of QR codes. This lead to a rise in transaction volumes by $1.2 trillion in 2016, according to KPMG. In 2021,WeChat clocked in annual transactions valued at 1.6 trillion yuan or$250 billion.

These numbers show us how dependent consumers are on technology. It also shows us that the use of the payment app in the purchase of items facilitated the hybrid retail marketing strategy concept. Several mini-programs or third-party services connect WeChat that enable users to buy clothes, pay for taxi rides, order food, and a host of other smaller tasks based on the location of the user. 

Other retail-oriented technology and devices are being leveraged as well. Argos offers a click-and-collect service in partnership with Google Home. Shoppers use this virtual assistant to reserve items via voice commands and pick up their items from physical stores later on.

Conclusion

It’s the start of something new; each time a consumer interacts with products via digital means they gather new insights. Whether it is done offline, online or both it serves as a reference for retailers to offer more through their retail marketing strategy and sustains a two-way communication pattern between retail brands and their consumers. 

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