Imagine this scene: On the hunt for a new couch, you walk into your favorite furniture retailer. But as you step into the store, you aren’t surrounded by chairs or love-seats, but stations where shoppers are peering inside virtual reality headsets. You gaze into a virtual showroom, where you can swipe through products and see them in multiple arrangements. Satisfied after selecting a couch in the color and size you want, you order the product and leave the store, empty-handed. A short time later, the same couch is delivered to your door.
It’s a futuristic scene, one that vastly differs from the long treks through department stores and furniture shops consumers are used to today. But it may be coming sooner than we think. To compete in a rapidly changing digital landscape, businesses will need to prepare for a new way of thinking about retail across all channels.
Brick-and-mortar isn’t going away, but it’s evolving
As customers increasingly turn to their phones and laptops to shop online, retailers aim to integrate online experiences with their traditional brick-and-mortar models. But we can’t deny that there are benefits to visiting physical locations over online platforms. In a brick-and-mortar store, customers have much more interaction with products – they can see, test and try on items.
Shoppers are also more easily exposed to other products they might not have purchased in a less immersive online experience. Finally, they can walk out of the store with products in hand, without waiting for delivery or paying for shipping. For these reasons and more, it’s clear that the brick-and-mortar model isn’t going away anytime soon. However, it is changing to become a more immersive digital experience.
Brands are already integrating online and offline shopping
Amazon is pushing ahead in this space with its bookstores, already open in several cities with more on the way. Though the store sells physical books (largely curated through online reviews), Amazon encourages customers to walk out empty-handed by ordering books online or downloading them through Kindle devices, which are showcased throughout the store. The physical store is emphasized more as a way to highlight and expose the full range of Amazon products rather than a place to purchase them.
This model separates the logistics and supply chain from physical stores, as customers can have products delivered directly to their homes. While customers can’t always walk away with what they want immediately, the model enables businesses to focus on providing faster deliveries directly to homes, instead of shipping products to stores first and then to consumers.
What does this mean now?
The shift towards the “product-less store” that many brands might implement will be gradual, and doesn’t make sense for every industry. But the shift has implications across the board.
For now, brands need to focus on integrating the benefits of online and offline shopping. On a surface level, this means making inventory information more transparent and streamlining click-and-collect options for customers that browse online and pick up in-store.
It also entails using virtual and augmented reality to improve the customer experience.
For example, online shoppers should be able to virtually model products. Warby Parker already has this function which allows customers to “try on” glasses online. This allows customers that can’t access store locations to reap the benefits of seeing products in person, and provides a more satisfying online experience.
When strategizing for brick-and-mortar, retailers should think of physical locations as showcases for what is available online. They need to ensure that in-store offerings are consistent across online platforms, so customers can easily order products they’ve seen in stores. Retailers also need to maintain a robust logistics program that can support fast deliveries to customer homes.
While the “productless store” has not arrived yet, it’s one of many innovations retailers need to expect in an increasingly competitive digital-centered landscape. To get ahead of the pack, this means preparing now.