Physical Retail isn’t over, it’s just getting started

Retailers were forced to change at unprecedented speeds by the COVID-19 pandemic. This included a shift to digital and stores being forced to close their doors. The global lockdowns exacerbated the gap between physical and online retail. In the U.S., around 20,000 to 25,000 stores were predicted to close by 2020.

Online shopping is convenient, but there are still many benefits to shopping in a physical location. These include the interaction between customer and store associate, the ability to touch products and the personal and unique shopping experience. For many brands, the most important thing is convincing customers to return in-store. Many consumers have adopted new shopping habits as a result of COVID-19, which has forced them to shift to online shopping. Incentives to return to physical shops require more than just promotions. It must focus on recreating the shopping experience that they have lost while also incorporating the convenience of online browsing.

We continue to show signs that we are recovering. Now is the time for us to use the lessons learned through 2020 and implement new technologies to bridge the gap between in store and digital shopping experiences. This will allow us to introduce “Physical Retail 2.0” to consumers, which embraces digital acceleration while reinventing brick-and mortar experience.

E-Commerce is booming, but don’t discount brick-and-mortar

The U.S. saw the highest rate of ecommerce growth over the past two decades in 2020. But brick-and-mortar shops offer a human element that online shoppers don’t have.

Many people felt lonely after a year of social isolation and lockdowns. Physical locations can help to alleviate this feeling. For a feeling of community and a personal experience, shoppers go to physical locations. It is difficult to work directly with shop associates in order to find the right products online due to screen limitations. Many shoppers want to feel that their purchases are important. This can be achieved through conversation and in-person engagement. Retailers can increase brand loyalty, engagement, and return on their investment by having a physical presence.

You can think outside the box: Add new elements to stores

Shopping has transformed irreversibly. The expectations and preferences of consumers are changing rapidly.

Physical retail does not have to be competitive with e-commerce. However, it must offer the same seamless, connected experience as online shopping and the benefits of in-store shopping. You can touch, feel, and try on merchandise in-store. This is combined with digital accommodations such as technology that allows sales associates to provide a personalized touch based on shopper preferences or allow for in-store pickup via branded apps.

Online shopping is easy and convenient for consumers. You can save items to your cart and get recommendations for new products. These features must be adapted in-store by retailers who understand their customers’ needs, intents, and customize the shopping experience accordingly. This allows retailers to experiment with new concepts while still satisfying loyal customers.

Take care of your health!

Safety and health of employees and shoppers must be a top priority. The pandemic taught us the importance of hygiene and cleanliness.

Wondering how to do so? You can improve the shopping experience by changing layouts. For easier viewing, get rid of clutter on shelves and racks. Contactless/cashless payments are a great way to speed up checkout and allow customers to feel more comfortable using their own devices. A smaller number of customers in a store can allow for a more personal experience between the shopper/agent.

A physical presence can create a sense community. The key is to recreate that feeling in today’s world. Connections are important, whether it’s through branded mobile app, online shopping communities, or virtual events.

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on physical retail, retailers should now double-down on their retail investment and increase brick-and mortar locations. Shoppers are missing the in-store experience, and they want to return.

Ron Harries, senior vice president and head of retail at Fabletics is a global lifestyle brand that sells men’s and woman’s sportswear and footwear.

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