2018 will mark the death of the online vs. offline retail war
A view from Mariam Asmar

2018 will mark the death of the online vs. offline retail war

Consumers don't think about shopping in terms of channels, and next year's winning retailers won't either, writes McCann London's strategy and innovation director.

Retail has reached a state of flux. With millennial consumers nailing that perfect balance between purchasing fast fashion and luxury items, it’s the brands falling somewhere in the middle, the hourglass ones, that face the toughest challenges of success in 2018.

The fact remains that all retailers have one objective: to drive in-store or online traffic, which is converted to sales.

So what’s the answer? With reports of footfall for physical retailers down and business booming for their online cousins, it’s time for retailers to find their own north star. Challenging? Yes. Impossible? No.

Let’s get physical

Everyone talks about those nagging pain-points with the in-store experience, such as unhelpful staff and endless check-out queues, which is fast putting consumers off hitting the high-street.

But this hurdle can be overcome by enhancing what consumers have always enjoyed about in-store experiences such as the joy of discovery, atmosphere, scent and tangible interaction.

Some stores are now even pet-friendly and also offer customer-controlled music options.

Then there’s the evolution of VR. If retailers are smart we will see an increasing number of stores move beyond the tokenistic use of technology and VR to a more truly holistic approach.

Personalised offerings will be far greater and technology will play the ultimate role in who stays in the bricks and mortar retail game.

One of Nike’s latest in-store innovations allows you to customise a shoe in store and pick it up within an hour.

This is huge for a brand whose consumers once had to wait a month to receive their personalised footwear.

This new offering affords consumers a sense of individualism from purchasing something not mass produced, but at the same time provides an impetus to stow away your laptop and visit Nike’s physical store. Who says online always comes out on top?

Get smart with data

The other retailers set to shine in 2018 are those who use data smartly.

John Lewis has already cracked it in that respect. They do an outstanding job of building correlation models (cold weather/sweaters) as well as monitoring search trends to anticipate which items their consumers will be buying next.

Connecting the dots

There’s no doubt that technology’s biggest impact on that massive draw of personalisation will be when it comes to connecting the online and offline experience.

One brand looking to set up shop in London, Cosmose, uses consumers’ existing mobile phone apps to categorise them into one of four different groups: outside a store potentially willing to come in, browsing, loyal customers and lost souls.

Using these groups, marketers can choose whether to push an offering or a tailored message and start to receive data about what drives conversions (offline and online).

According to a major survey of 11,000 consumers across nine countries this summer by Mood Media, 50% (and 67% of younger US consumers) would like to receive immediately redeemable discounts pushed to their phones when in-store. Why aren’t more retailers jumping on this bandwagon?

Lose the purse

On that note if you are a marketer in retail and not thinking about the mobile wallet, now is the time to start.

Pop Wallet is brilliant because it can target consumers with something as simple as a Facebook ad. When the ad appears, you save it online and it’s stored in your mobile wallet.

All of a sudden, you have a compelling reason to go into a store, with something that reminds you to do so.

It also requires no development on the brand’s side. The simplicity and efficacy of such an idea is truly impressive.

Nail it online, then build it

The brands activating best online are those who started as online-only brands, before expanding with a bricks and mortar store presence.

In the UK luxury market, Matches of Fashion is a great example. They maintain a couple of showrooms in London so consumers can touch and experience the products, and have access to helpful and knowledgeable staff, but their sales aren’t reliant on in-store purchases.

Because they were built as an online-first platform, they have a much better handle on data and can anticipate stock and trends better than more traditional retailers.

How many more online retailers will build a home on the high street next year?

Everlane, initially an online-only fashion retailer, just opened its first store in NYC. With global expansion in mind, London could be next.

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