For the first time in a lifetime, consumers could not walk into a department store or major retailer and skim end caps, touch a piece of clothing before buying, or ask a helpful employee what aisle they could find the laundry detergent. With a pandemic spreading and the world shut down, the habits and preferences of consumers was forced to change in an instant.
In our new Replicating the In-Store Experience Online ebook, we explore these trends and their impact on the brand-customer relationship.
The move online
Even as brick-and-mortar stores gradually open back up, digital experiences and ecommerce conversions continue to grow in frequency and preference. A Kameleoon study found that time spent online—not necessarily shopping but overall engaging in digital channels—is up 37% during the pandemic. And while ecommerce is not the sole reason for that increase, it is growing as well. The big three of Amazon, Walmart, and Target jumped from 705 million site visits the week of Feb. 3-9 to 779 million visits the week of March 9-15, according to a March 2020 Comscore report.
It’s not that the in-store shopping experience is going away. But more people are seeking digital options—at least in the near term—to fill that role. And there is plenty to suggest that online shopping will continue to see higher engagement than before COVID-19. Forrester reported that 23% of U.S. adults between the ages of 35 and 54 and 25% of those between 18 to 34 plan to shop online more moving forward.
Which begs the question, how can brands take the benefits of the in-store experience that cannot be found online and incorporate them into the digital experiences that continue to grow in popularity?
The benefits of the in-store experience
Before we can answer that question, we have to understand what those benefits are. While these are by no means all of the incentives brick-and-mortar stores have to offer, here are four key benefits we have identified that are aligned to the in-store experience.
Face-to-face customer service
This is less about customer service when there are issues with products and more about the service provided by an associate before the purchase. Being able to ask a store associate where to find a product or ask their opinion on which option is better is incredibly helpful to shoppers, especially when it comes to big-ticket purchases—like appliances or electronics—or when shopping for gifts.
Using your senses
It’s one thing to be able to read the dimensions and look at pictures, but it’s another to be able to touch the material and look at multiple options side by side. And of course, when it comes to buying clothing, being able to try on shirts and see the fit before leaving the store is a major plus.
One of the reasons brands push buy-online-pick-up-in-store options is because it gets consumers into their stores where they are surrounded by the rest of the brand’s inventory of products. Business Insider found that 85% of shoppers have made at least one additional in-store purchase while getting an online order, and 15% of those do it on a regular basis. For consumers, it’s not just about being tempted by other products as they walk to customer service to pick up an online order. Being in the store sparks a reminder of another product they need, which they can then get conveniently. Speaking of convenience…
The path to the most immediate gratification for shoppers is to be able to walk into stores and walk out with whatever they came to get. There’s no need to worry about when the product will arrive or when they will need it by; as long as the product is in stock, it is theirs right then and there.
How digital experiences are changing
Nothing digital can do—at least yet—is going to completely replace the in-store experience. The event aspect of the shopping experience (people going to stores in order to get out of the house and do something either alone or with friends and family), along with the benefits discussed, will keep people walking the aisles of brick-and-mortar stores.
But that doesn’t mean digital volume won’t increase. Nearly 30% of 1,000 US consumers surveyed by Kameleoon said they will use digital channels more once the country is back to normal. Brands’ ability to deliver more sophisticated, helpful, relevant, and contextual experiences online is only going to increase their foothold in an environment where more and more brands are competing for attention every second of the day across every channel.
If you’re looking for more digital marketing strategies, download our free ebook Replicating the In-Store Experience Online for insights on how to get started.