Blending offline and online – what we can learn from the world of retail

Lauren Purnell, Apr 03,2019

The shift in focus from offline to online has defined the retail landscape in recent years. With the digitalisation of the industry making it easy to buy everything we want and need online, the role of bricks and mortar stores has become less about being a place of purchase, and more around the immersive and social experiences that aren’t as easily replicated online.

Something which, until recently, has been a primary advantage of traditional retailers over their e-commerce competitors.

However, with more digital-first brands looking to capitalise on today’s experience economy, we’re seeing more and more online businesses making moves to claim a piece of the physical retail pie. Consequently, it would appear that the future of retail perhaps doesn’t lie in who can win online or offline, but rather who can successfully and effectively occupy both spaces – blending the two to cater to customers’ increasing desire for the benefits offered by each.

And whilst the past few years have provided countless examples of retailers successfully moving their brands onto digital platforms, what’s maybe more interesting is what we can learn from digital-first companies who have successfully established a physical presence – taking their online universe and recreating it in the three-dimensional realm.

Looking at some recent examples like Amazon, Glossier and French online retailer Sézane – it’s clear there are a few core considerations for businesses looking to make the most of both spaces:

  1. Keep your look and feel consistent

Due to the intangibility of their services, digital-first brands often have to work harder to build strong identities, convey their personalities and create interactions with customers that go beyond the simply transactional. As such, having distinct visual systems, tone of voice and getting creative with messaging all function to bring the brand to life and appeal to the right audiences.

The advantage for online brands, is that by having to place greater reliance and investment on visual and tonal brand elements, it provides a solid base from which to inform the design and experience of their in-store space.  For example, walk into any Glossier showroom and you’d be pretty disappointed if you weren’t completely immersed in a world of on-brand pink with a fun and irreverent vibe.

  1. Be seamless, everywhere

When it comes to transitioning from offline to online, digital-first companies face a big challenge – not only do they have to create memorable experiences consistent with their brand promise and identity, but they also have to provide the kind of convenient, seamless experience that customers expect from an online service.

For e-commerce giant Amazon – for whom ease and convenience underpins their offer –ensuring they could still deliver on this promise and create an easy, seamless experience for customers provided the foundation from which to create their physical stores. Using them not only as points of purchase but emphasising the convenience of being able to pick up and return an item without the complexities of postal delivery. In this way, the physical stores and pick-up points function to reinforce the ways in which Amazon is committed to simplifying the purchase process for customers – delivering on their expectations and helping to reinforce the brand’s positioning in both the digital and physical space. 

  1. Combine the best of both worlds

In a nutshell – let humans be humans, and tech be tech. Understanding where and how to digitise the customer experience and where to leverage the strengths of tech capability with the human touch appears to be paramount in creating an enhanced experience, without overcomplicating.

For example, French retailer Sézane has created several physical ‘L’Apartement’ stores that allow customers to step inside the brand’s world of French fashion where they are free to browse, touch, and try-on the latest collections, but in a totally ‘connected space’. Integrating tech in ways that don’t interfere with the customer journey but rather enable it, such as stock searches and online purchases via in-store digital devices. In this way, the brand stays true to its digital roots and identity, but allows the space to add the tactile experience that’s missing from it’s core online offer.