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Clicks And Mortar: 3 Signs That Modern Retail Is Blurring The Online / Offline Divide

If we’d all believed the hype of a few years ago, you’d be forgiven for expecting today’s high street to be in full-on post-apocalypse mode by now: tumbleweeds, Will Smith with an alsatian, the full works. While there have been plenty of well-publicised fatalities, it’s clear that the rise of eCommerce hasn’t dealt the decisive death blow that was foretold. This week, we explore some of the recent trends that suggest the green shoots are starting to show again for the in-store experience.

A retro tin robot

Trend One: Tech Beyond A Gimmick

The days when we felt like an edgy Marty McFly for using the supermarket self-checkout are long behind us. Today, the expectation for in-store experiences to be high tech and digitised is increasingly well established. We’re at the point where several generations have now grown up doing a large proportion of their shopping online as default. If they’re going to leave their bedroom, they expect more. A shopping experience needs to be just that; entertainment. If all we wanted was practicality, we’d be one-click ordering online with free next day delivery.

This trend is about more than creating “sharable” in-store experiences, something which retailers have seemed overly keen to wave in front of selfie-hungry teens. Instagrammable experiential design is one thing, and while many invest in quirky digital diversions, the emphasis seems to be shifting away from using technology as a means to entertain or spread your brand via social sharing, and more towards deploying technology that enhances the actual experience of shopping.

Concepts with these lofty aspirations are often reserved for flagship stores. Nike, as ever, is a great example of this. Their Manhattan store comes loaded to the hilt with clever, practical tech, offering customers a wide variety of options for interaction and engagement, from in-store chatbots to the ability to shop the store using their own app.

Trend Two: Death Of The Queue

The hands-down worst element of any high street shopping excursion; excruciating queuing and wait times. Stores are increasingly savvy to this, and recent innovations do seem to suggest that they’re taking real steps to make this tedious end to your in-store experience a thing of the past. While a very basic version of this kind of concept – Click and Collect – has been available for some time now, the process is being refined and elevated.

Mobile check out is increasingly common; as cash declines and most transactions are contactless, the payment process no longer needs to be physically tethered to a cash desk. Often to be found at the forefront of innovation, Lush overhauled its till system in it’s Oxford Street flagship, entirely replacing its traditional till system with Android-powered tablets. These offer increased options for payment, and quicker transactions, but most importantly, staff can ring through a charge anywhere in the store, meaning the chance of a customer changing their mind about a product, or giving up on a long queuing time, decreases. Lush report that revenue has risen by almost 20% since the new check out experience was introduced, suggesting that retail’s physical “abandon cart” rates could use some real attention!

Whilst self check out has traditionally been a logistical challenge for clothing retailers (due to the presence of security tags) but Zara has introduced their new “Cue Zara” system to certain stores, which enables just that, to largely glowing reviews. The future? As online stores move into the physical space, we should expect much more innovation in this field, with concepts like the AmazonGo stores leading the charge. As ever, there’s an ethical consideration to be factored in to these seemingly win-win shopping experiences: the rise of cashless stores could prove highly problematic for those on lower incomes.

Trend Three: Shopify’s Backing

Partnering as we do with Shopify Plus, we may be slightly biased in this respect, but it’s safe to say that Shopify have as good a handle on the future of the retail space anyone else out there. To see the commerce platform continue to back bricks and mortar stores, producing innovative solutions to common pain points and paving the way for more modern, in-person shopping experiences, is as good a signal as you’ll find that there’s still plenty of potential in physical retail.

At the recent Unite event, Shopify announced several “Point Of Sale” releases and improvements. Notable were the POS cart app extensions, enabling loyalty and promotion details to appear directly inline during the check-out experience, streamlining the process for both staff and customer. This is another great example of continuity of service between on and offline experience, as customers’ loyalty points or credits are seamlessly linked.

Additionally, a redesigned suite of POS hardware was announced, with a focus on app integration, again prioritising quick workflows and freeing staff to focus more on the human interaction element of the check out process.

The Future

Offline retail has definitely woken up to the need to blur the lines between the convenience of online shopping and the experience of a great instore journey. Whilst the introduction of smarter stores, tricked out with the latest digital enhancements, is something to be welcomed, some will doubtless fall foul of the potential pitfalls (devalued human interaction, alienated older generations, white elephant tech that looked cool but didn’t really solve a problem.) One thing’s certain, there’s all to play for in the coming years; physical retail is looking like a pretty exciting space to be a part of again.

Check back on Thursday for a look at three more ways that offline shopping experiences are innovating and evolving in store.



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