Retailers Aiming to Remain Competitive Will Need to Get ‘Phygital’ — Fast
Physical Storefronts that Integrate Digital Shopping’s Strengths Can Out-Perform the Competition. Here's How:
It’s an often-recited mantra that ‘business innovation is key.’ Thought leaders regularly emphasize that executives need to be at the bleeding edge and that their companies need to adopt tomorrow’s tech yesterday.
This strategic mindset is well warranted as companies aim to keep pace with the seemingly exponential growth in tech innovations over the last many years and drive efficiencies to compensate for challenges with supply chains, labor, and the ever-changing, ever-demanding modern consumer.
Indeed, according to a study by CMO Council and Worldwide Partners, only 20% of brands reported they felt they were ready to meet the modern consumer’s demands in 2019. Since then, those demands have only complexified and deepened.
However, the collective urge to be at the edge of the conversation sometimes leads to some false assumptions. One of the biggest—particularly during COVID-19 but present beforehand as well—have been claims of a so-called ‘death’ of brick-and-mortar retail, a notion that article after article has headlined because it’s an easy angle that people will read about.
While it is true that brick-and-mortar was hit hard by lockdowns and digital services are on the rise, stores have sprung back quickly and, in general, the data just doesn’t support the idea that physical shopping is on the way out.
Even according to data from 2020 (when lockdowns were still prevalent), 80% of transactions are still taking place in-store, and in the blog and media space, most of the conversation has come back around to emphasizing that brick-and-mortar will remain relevant.
Yet, digital transformations and the emergent business and consumer technologies that fuel them are still the future. It is the in-store experience itself that is now called to change in ways that are more radical and extensive than at any time in modern history.
During a recent episode of the RETHINK Retail Podcast, Bobby Marhmat, CEO of digital experience provider Raydiant, shared that “The biggest theme…is really that convergence that’s needed across online and offline buying mechanisms…some brands started to lose some of their loyal customers because they didn’t have that connection anymore.”
“…people now want that same [informative] online experience to be also available offline…getting that information quickly and efficiently, and then being able to either purchase there in store or later,” Marhmat continued.
In other words, while brick-and-mortar may remain the dominant mode of purchasing, its continued survival and relevance—particularly in the most competitive spaces—is nonetheless predicated on its ability to adapt to the advantages and services offered by online, digital shopping experiences.
What this means and what this looks like can often be summarized as “meeting the customers where they are and when they want to be met” argued Ryan Taylor, head of retail product marketing at T-Mobile with over 20 years of experience in executive retail management.
Taylor continued to explain how different innovations from the last several years—namely more advanced home delivery systems for a wider range of services, real-time deliveries, augmented and virtual reality shopping, and so on—have helped to create some new key questions for the industry: “[The focus has been] how do you meet the consumer where they are in a phygital type environment?”
In brief, whether it’s AR and VR-powered solutions in x, demographically-oriented digital signage, or digital customer service kiosks, the future of the physical store represents a synthesis of the old and the new into an experience that will capture consumers’ wants and needs like never before.
However, in order to achieve these goals, the proper infrastructure needs to be in place, everything from the right omnichannel capable cloud systems to engage your customers and manage your backend to tools helping your teams work across your entire business with a high degree of security, visibility, and scalability.
Powering all of that needs to be highly reliable, deeply connective network systems such as varying levels of 5G integrations and services such as T-Mobile’s Business Internet (their ‘fixed wireless’ offering).
Taylor revealed that he has been seeing more and more retailers move to 5G as their primary infrastructure for their PoS systems, digital signage, and other support devices and that data-powered fixed wireless systems have become viable because of the improvements 5G has brought to the table.
“Business Internet is a more cost-effective and speedy way to be able to add on connectivity and security and take bandwidth off of the current network you have in your store. So, as retail continues to grow and IoT continues to grow…network connectivity and the different customizable options to get there are going to be extremely important. And that’s where 5G plays a significant part,” Taylor continued.
Marhamat agreed and went on to elaborate on why stronger network connectivity will be paramount to implementing new digital infrastructures within stores..
“This is absolutely important,” he said. “With these new experiences being added in location, there’s a need for bandwidth and network connectivity and brands are taking that to the next level.”
At the core of so much of this drive to digitize the store-front experience, of course, is the same core function of all retail marketing, to capture the evolving customer and to, wherever possible, get ahead of the curve in figuring out what they want, when, and how, capturing loyalty at a time when this has never been so challenging (or vital).
Reflected Marhamat, “Building that brand loyalty has become way more important today than it ever has been…[you can do this via] those immersive shopping experiences.”
He continued to explain that the notion brick-and-mortar is dying or on the decline is simply wrong: “What’s really happening is the brands that are not…digitizing their stores [are lagging the sector behind].”
Speaking of those opportunities for immersive experiences, we return to some of those aforementioned technologies such as AR/VR and digital signage.
“As sales forecasts kind of start to soar exponentially, augmented reality experiences for shoppers play a big part and so to help towards those [immersive experiences],” noted Taylor.
“Virtual try-on in retail [allow for this] personalized [envisioning] of products from clothing to shoes to makeup to maybe even the furniture you can virtually place into your living room,” he continued.
The possibilities for creative digital signage are also much more varied, flexible, and reactive than many customers today may realize.
Marhamat’s work at Raydiant focuses on that potential: “We are working with a major fashion retailer…as you walk in, you see some educational kiosk around how this product was built [and when looking at product] if they don’t have the customer’s size available, they can either transact in-store or on their phone…digital signage helps to create that that online-offline convergence.”
It’s while a business is leveraging these technologies to engage their customers better that they’re also in a better position to gleam huge amounts of data that will help to make those experiences only better, creating a positive feedback loop that will skyrocket your potential for consumer loyalty so long as it is done ethically and transparently.
By leveraging digital technologies to make the storefronts of today look like the Jetsons frequent them, retailers can create those experiences which create a greater sense of purpose in what they’re buying and how they relate to your brand.
Business Internet: Not available in all areas; addresses ineligible for 5G Small Business Internet may be eligible for 4G LTE or other fixed wireless options.