With the online retail giant, Amazon, reaching an eye-watering $400 billion in market capitalization, it not only became the biggest e-tailer, but one of the biggest retailers in the world. This surely must signal to all traditional retailers that it simply is not enough to have just brick-and-mortar shops anymore.
Indeed, research from comScore found that over 51% of shoppers made their purchases online in 2015 — a figure expected to be much higher when the same survey is completed this year. An online presence is therefore no longer “a nice to have” but an absolute necessity.
This is apparent when you look at traditional mainstay stores like Walmart and Walgreens. These all-American brands have had to close several stores in reaction to the consumer trend of choosing online shopping over stepping foot in a physical store. The effect of this is two fold— not only do they have less revenue to continue trying to stay afloat, they have less revenue to pump into their online offering. Compare this back to Amazon which is estimated to see its revenue cross the $160 billion mark in 2017 — up from $100 billion just two years earlier.
Why Is eCommerce starting to Overshadow Brick-and-Mortar?
Whilst the likes of Amazon put pressure on traditional stores in terms of prices, consumer behavior is also playing a role. More and more people are doing their shopping online, as it saves time, too (in addition to be cheaper).
The holiday season, in particular, is a big winner for online retailers as consumers start their holiday shopping earlier and earlier each year. In an article in adweek, Courtney McKlveen of Oath, the media and advertising company formed out of Verizon’s Yahoo-AOL merger, claims that “the shopping season is longer, customers begin looking [for gifts] sooner.” This behavior is borne out doing research online initially, which subsequently goes on to help the bottom line of e-tailers as researching logically turns into purchasing. Traditional shops are at a disadvantage in this way.
Another advantage e-tailers have over brick-and-mortar stores is being able to offer consumers a wider breadth of choice both in terms of product options but also in terms of delivery. With the introduction of drones and an almost unbelievable one-hour delivery service in some cities, it is easy to see how ecommerce has been able to chip away at the previous success of traditional brick-and-mortar. Additionally, online merchants allow consumers the ease of searching from their own armchair as well as the ability to source hard to find products. In this way, malls and stores simply cannot compete.
Shortcomings of Online Shopping
However, that is not to say that all shoppers want to do all their shopping online because they can do it from their couch. People still enjoy the experience of going out to shops, and view it as an activity in itself.
Online shopping is undeniably convenient, sure. But it’s still an inherently impersonal channel as stated by 52% of people surveyed in the global “Truth About Shopping” study by McCann.
The personal touch of a shop assistant is an obvious advantage to in-store shopping as is the ability to test drive products themselves — be that a car or a pair of shoes.
How To Overcome These Challenges
Online stores need to enhance their offering by providing this personal touch as much as they possibly can.
One way they can do this is by using chatbots or digital advisors. They are a great start in bridging the gap by offering assistance that a personal shopper may give in a store. They can ask interactive questions that are similar to those that a customer would be asked on a shop floor. The online software then uses inference algorithms alongside machine learning to suggest the most suitable products, there and then.
Source: Guided Selling
Sometimes a “labor illusion” is created by taking time to make such suggestions — as if the online service is making just as much effort as a human sales assistant would do in store.
Another way to provide a personal touch is by using AI-powered platforms that use data and real-time customization, such as Personali, to give customers an excellent shopping experience from the comfort of their own homes (or wherever they may be). By analyzing past user browsing and purchasing behavior, these platforms are able to help e-tailers present highly relevant products and tailored offerings to customers at the right time. Getting relevant and timely offers during an online shopping experience is just like when a sales associate tells you about offers that might be interesting to you based on the products you are looking for in a store. It makes customers feel special and it is key for an enhanced customer experience.
Give customers what they want
Online consumers are driving e-tailers to mine data to provide them with exactly what they want, when they want it. Today, technological advancements in algorithms and predictive analytics offer intelligent solutions that can actively help to bring the positives of the in-store shopping experience to the online world.
Ecommerce shops need to use the right technology that can sort through huge amounts of customer behavior data, so they can offer personalized incentives to each customer that shops on their sites. By getting up close and personal with their customers’ wants and desires, and by specifically targeting them based on those desires, a pleasant customer experience can be provided that far outweighs the positives of a physical trip to stores.