Think about how much time you spend online today compared with, say, ten years ago. Thanks to the invention and adoption of social media, increased broadband speeds, the changing workplace and modern, multi-screen lifestyles, we’re all spending more of our days on the net.
And, for CEOs, this presents challenges and opportunities in equal measure. If you have guardianship of a brand that has a foot in both the digital and physical retail space, a cohesive and flexible brand is vital. The challenge you’re faced with is that customers begin to expect a certain service from your brand. Stores are in a prime position to localize their offering, through hyper-local products (think city-specific slogan T-shirts etc.), while the very nature of e-commerce demands a national, if not international, approach. Therefore, mirroring the localized experience online is a tall task, but get your offering right and you’ll not only be ahead of the competition, but you’ll also go a long way to winning customer loyalty. After all, the human instinct is to reject change and seek the familiar.
Even brands synonymous with e-commerce pure play ensure their brand remains strong when taking the almost counterintuitive step of opening physical main street stores.
Amazon Goes Local
If you live in one of the growing number of urban destinations Amazon has chosen to open a bricks-and-mortar store, you’ll know what that looks like. Up until a couple of years back, the digital behemoth was an online pure player, albeit with a mature logistical operation.
Today, Amazon’s physical store count tops an impressive 630, yet walk into any Amazon Go, Amazon 4-star, Amazon pop-up or Amazon books outlets and you’ll have an eerily familiar feeling. We’re all far more used to the dot com surrounds of Amazon but somehow, within the walls of their physical stores, it can be difficult to separate the two. Everything is where you would expect it to be. The familiar brown and gold features throughout. Even the staff, with a seemingly endless understanding of their stock, seem as close to a human version of the infamous “customers also bought” recommendation system. And with locally-based staff, comes the opportunity to promote geospecific products. If you’ve ever been into a bookstore, you’ll have no doubt spotted a table dressed with books on the subject of local history, sports, hotspots etc. Well, Amazon employs that same experience in their physical stores. This addition has the effect of surprising and delighting customers, who then have a warmer brand affinity to the company.
Balance is Key
Buzz Bingo follows a similar approach to keep their clientele on board with the brand as they move between platforms and physical spaces. The turnaround of this market is surprising. Traditionally, bingo has been seen as the domain of the senior citizen. Likely to make fewer trips to venues and spend less while there, a significant amount of R&D has poured into this sector. Once basic platforms are now home to sophisticated games and communities that the more tech savvy clientele can enjoy, from the comfort of their home. The brand experience is extended beyond the bingo and slots sites too, with Clubs sections allowing customers to find their nearest bingo venue, sign up for membership and even take advantage of online deals that can then be used during their visit, such as “bingo and a drink”. Again, as with Amazon, the experience is seamless, the tone struck across the website and at venue is fun and welcoming, while the digital and physical interactions work to create a harmonious brand.
Look a little closer and you’ll notice this pattern across all markets and sectors. Supermarkets, for example, have long been considered to be primed for e-commerce success, yet the vast majority of grocery shopping remains in store. The likes of America’s Trader Joe’s and Walmart; Europe’s Carrefour and Leclerc; and Britain’s Tesco and Ocado have all worked on developing e-commerce offerings, with differing success. You may wonder why, with market share of online grocery orders currently being so significantly small, these supermarket giants would place so much emphasis on their digital play. Well, just as the general amount of time spent online has crept up over the past decade, so too has our confidence with living in the digital sphere.
The Physical vs Digital
Therefore, though the present figures may not be overwhelmingly impressive, the market trend points to a future where our digital and physical actions share equal footing. Online sales will not cease in their importance to businesses’ bottom lines, but the local shopper can still be persuaded to join and stay with you in the digital space, given an all-around positive brand experience. In order to succeed in this multi-faceted setting, CEOs, brand managers, marketers and beyond must ensure their brand’s value and proposition is strong enough to support itself in both the online and offline arenas.