The Future of Retail: Online, Immersive, and Interactive
It's no secret that COVID-19 fundamentally disrupted the retail industry. Amidst multiple lockdowns, countless retailers had to close up shop and move from brick-and-mortar outlets to online. This transition left many retailers scrambling to adapt.
While the specifics varied by industry, retailers that already dabbled in digital and omnichannel prior to the pandemic were typically met with the greatest success. Generally, this was because they already had the necessary groundwork in place to offer a compelling online experience. For them, it was simply a minor pivot.
It would be easy to assume technology was the sole differentiator here. Such an assumption, however, would be incorrect. A pre-existing online presence was only advantageous because it allowed retailers to offer a better experience.
As noted by McKinsey, customer experience leaders have always demonstrated greater resilience during times of disruption. This isn't new. What has changed, however, is the importance shoppers now place on their experiences. To put it another way, the past several years have permanently altered consumer behavior, values, and priorities.
According to Salesforce's Annual State of the Connected Customer Report, 86 percent of consumers now feel that the experience a business provides is as important as its products and services. The State of Consumer Behavior 2021 Report, meanwhile, found 90 percent of consumers will return to a store after a positive experience. But what does experience mean in this context?
During quarantine, it meant providing shoppers with an immersive and engaging online storefront. It meant incorporating augmented reality and interactivity into product pages. Now that people are once more setting foot in physical stores, it means something else, too — something completely different.
But before we can discuss that, let's talk about how we got where we currently are.
The Digital Landscape of Modern Retail
The e-commerce market experienced the equivalent of a decade of growth in the first few months of 2020. Consequently, the number of online shoppers worldwide has steadily increased over the past several years, reaching 2.64 billion in 2023. These figures together suggest two things.
First, retail was always going to transition from physical to digital. The pandemic simply moved up the timeframe. Second is that even as physical stores reopen, many consumers still choose to shop online.
It isn't difficult to see why, either. Online shopping is considerably easier and more convenient than visiting the store. Instead of having to plan a shopping trip and travel to and from the store, you can get everything you need from the comfort and safety of your own home.
Yet this safety and convenience comes at a cost. Traditionally, there are certain drawbacks to online shopping when compared to physical retail. The inability to try on clothes, for instance, or visualize how a piece of furniture might look in your home.
Fortunately, technology exists to address these shortcomings. Just look at some examples from Tangiblee's own portfolio:
- Virtual try-on, which leverages augmented reality to let customers see how an item looks on them.
- Interactive product size comparisons.
- Customizable silhouette models to show how an article of clothing, handbag, etc. looks on different body types.
- Augmented reality furniture and decor staging.
These features all have one thing in common. They exist to bridge the gap between virtual and physical, making the online shopping experience feel more engaging and compelling in the process. Yet as exciting as they are, there's something even bigger just over the horizon.
Hybrid retail — the best of both worlds.
An Emerging Hybrid Marketplace
As much as people now shop online, they appreciate physical stores, as well. But they don't want to shop in them the way they did prior to the pandemic. Rather, they're looking for an in-store experience enriched by digital commerce.
They're looking for a retailer with the best of both worlds, including:
- Contactless purchases.
- Interactive in-store product displays.
- Seamless integration between your sales funnel, your online store, and your physical outlets.
- Personalized guidance, product suggestions and advice.
- Online pickups and preorders.
- Mobile-friendly product barcodes and QR codes.
Just as online shoppers now expect a high level of interactivity and novelty, in-store shoppers are beginning to expect — perhaps even demand — the features listed above. They want more than a static shopping experience. They want to be able to use their smartphones to engage with your business and products in new and deeper ways.
Just as hybrid work is the future of the office, hybrid retail is the future of commerce.
Exceed Customer Expectations With Tangiblee
The world of retail has fundamentally changed. Online shopping is more popular than ever. And with that popularity comes demand for new features — demand for interactive and immersive e-commerce.
Said interactivity can easily be springboarded into the real world as well, as many of the tools used to add an extra layer of immersion to your virtual storefront can also support a hybrid approach to retail.
Tangiblee can show you how. Book a demo today to see our e-commerce experience platform in action.