3 Ways to Blend the In-store and Online Shopping Experience for Retail Success

The retail landscape is changing dramatically. Driven in large part by the pandemic, the industry is evolving at a faster pace than ever before. We’re seeing the lines between online and in-store experiences blur and customer behaviors and expectations rapidly evolve.

By Gary Gerber, Head of Product Marketing, Vantiq

Online and in-store shopping each have their respective benefits. For online shopping, it is convenience. Enabling customers to shop at any time, day or night, without having to wait in lines or track down cashiers to assist with purchases. In addition, eCommerce platforms can leverage personal buying histories to provide ‘on the fly’ recommendations that help customers discover new products they wouldn’t have previously considered. However, online retail purchases still only represent a small percentage of total retail sales**, as the majority of purchases still happen in physical stores where customers can experience and test products before buying them. The hands-on experience is seminal in their purchasing decisions, and doesn’t carry over to online shopping in the same way.

Modern retailers recognize that this is no longer an either/or choice, and are instead using the latest edge computing enabled technologies to create new, compelling experiences that unify the benefits of online and in-store shopping. This enables them to create greater brand differentiation and foster stronger customer loyalty while optimizing operational costs.

Here are three technologies helping retailers blur the lines between the online and in-store shopping experience:

From Shopping Cart to Shopping Smart
Edge computing is changing the retail game by enabling companies to monitor people, places, and devices, via cameras and sensors, at any moment in time. For example, smart, in-store shopping carts are equipped with camera sensors that leverage distributed computing systems, using artificial intelligence (AI) and image analysis to identify and tally items in the cart. Once a customer is done shopping and leaves, they are automatically billed. In addition, suggested store routes can be displayed on the shopping cart in real-time.

Similarly, eCommerce shopping carts can also leverage the edge to promote product purchases. They can remind customers of items left in their online shopping cart when near a physical location of that retailer, or even alert customers when they are near any retail location that offers items they have been researching online. In this way, the retailer’s online experience can seamlessly transition into a physical experience, enabling the brick-and-mortar store to become a shopping hub for delivery (e.g., curbside pickup) or returns.

A New, Augmented Reality
The online shopping experience takes place on computers, on mobile devices, on social media, and now, in the metaverse. By embracing virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) technologies, retailers will be able to offer their customers a unique, immersive shopping experience that tells their brand’s story and sets it apart.

With these technologies, richly detailed, interactive 3D spaces can be created to replicate the in-store experience, encouraging shoppers to linger longer than the conventional online shopping experience. Retailers can create interactive experiences that help guide customers, such as virtual fitting rooms, gamification (e.g., scavenger hunts, flash sales, etc.), and GPS routing capabilities.These technologies can also create cross-selling opportunities by promoting an experience as well as a product. So instead of trying on a new pair of sunglasses in a virtual fitting room, a customer could “see” themselves wearing those sunglasses on a Caribbean cruise, then have the ability to purchase a holiday cruise as well as the sunglasses.

In-Store Experiences that Delight More Customers
The design of a brick-and-mortar store isn’t trivial, as it showcases the personality of the brand via window displays, lighting and music, the products offered, and customer service. Everything counts to create a memorable in-store shopping experience. Unfortunately, this experience is so general that it doesn’t fully resonate with any single type of customer.

By utilizing customer data and contextual insights from all customers – e.g., from customer loyalty programs and online shopping behaviors – retailers can create an in-store experience that better targets a variety of customer types. For example, by leveraging the analytics that go into eCommerce Recommendation applications in a physical store location, in real time, businesses can customize the brick-and-mortar shopping experience – from suggesting store routes with product recommendations, to highlighting appropriate sales items, to adjusting the background music and store temperature. The result is a memorable, ‘personalized’ physical experience that will match current in-store demographics – and delight all customers.

Point of Convenience
Traditionally, retailers have focused their efforts on where products have been bought, aka the Point of Sale (POS). However, as new technologies are introduced – from smart shopping carts and AR / VR to retail intelligence and real-time analytics – this focus needs to shift.

The lines between online and in-store experiences aren’t just blurring, they are blending. This means retailers must focus on more than just the point of sale. They also need to consider how and when the products are bought: the Point of Convenience (POC). For retailers to be successful, they will need to embrace that their business will no longer be ‘binary’, focused on either the online or the in-store experience. Instead, they will need to provide an experience that caters to customers, wherever, whenever, and however they want.

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