I am sure that, like me, you’re hearing and reading a lot about hybrid retail at the moment. It seems to be the phrase on many retailers’ lips, and seen by many as the path to remaining relevant to customers, and successful in the post-pandemic world.

Here I take a look into what exactly we mean by ‘hybrid retail’, how it plays an important role retailers’ strategy for a ‘covid-normal’ world and the essential three steps to getting started.

One of the first things to say is that there are many definitions of exactly what ‘hybrid retail’ looks like, but all agree that it is essentially an ever closer and more innovative approach to online/offline integration.

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Digital marketing agency Meticulosity has a very specific definition, which is that hybrid retail is a combination of four elements;

  1. Traditional delivery from the warehouse
  2. Online order and pickup, either as BOPIS/Click and collect, or as curbside pickup, and possibly with booked timeslots
  3. Localised delivery – for faster, even same day delivery, using an ‘Uber-like’ model
  4. In-store shopping by appointment

Spring Fair defines hybrid as combining brick and mortar with digital, so that brick and mortar stores have ecommerce solutions and, increasingly vice versa, where digital brands have physical retail store, whether pop-up or permanent.

This notion of digitally native brands having a brick and mortar presence is something we wrote about back in March in our article ‘Online shopping – the growth accelerates’. In that blog, we quoted the Retail Touchpoints report about Westfield malls hosting pop-ups and full retail stores for digitally native vertical brands.

Spring Fair’s thoughts on the practical implementation of the hybrid model include:

  • Online brands running in-person workshops
  • Real-time chat within ecommerce solutions for enhancing the customer experience
  • Integrated rewards systems – not each on its own platform

In their report,  ‘The future hybrid store’,  CBRE define the online/offline integration concept as ‘- bringing in-store shopping and e-commerce fulfilment into the same space’ and cite the integration of retail and logistics as being the key focus, with on-site returns, fulfilling ecommerce orders from brick and mortar stores, and ‘dark stores’ for shipping and pickup only.

I think that all of these definitions are absolutely relevant and that a combination of some or all of these initiatives are going to be essential to helping retailers stay relevant in the post-pandemic era. Here’s why:

  • Continue serving customers – in some locations, being able to offer hybrid forms of interaction will be the difference between surviving and not. During the pandemic, shoppers have changed the way they want to engage with retailers, and this change is here to stay. Retailers that don’t embrace online/offline integration are more likely to be the ones who struggle in the post pandemic world.
  • Safer/socially distanced shopping – many shoppers remain nervous about direct contact and hybrid retail initiatives enable them to get the goods they want, with less contact. Having their goods delivered, picking them up from the retail store, or shopping by appointment help them to stay safe.
  • Customer experience – there is no ‘one size fits all’ any more, and retailers need to offer a wider range of shopping options for customers. Online/offline integration helps to increase the ways in which your customers can engage with you.

  • Resource planning – online/offline integration, and shopping ‘by appointment’ gives retailers a more even spread of customers, and more information that enables you to plan your resources better.

  • Personalised service – online/offline integration gives retailers far more visibility about their customers, including before they shop. With detailed knowledge of who is shopping and what they prefer, retailers can tailor marketing and promotions more precisely, so that, for example, a shopper who always uses delivery or always collects gets offers and promotions based around that method of shopping.

So, what do retailers need to do? For those wanting to start or further their journey towards hybrid retail, there are three key retail technology essentials to have in place:

Digital presencethe key is that ecommerce solutions must be fully integrated with the brick and mortar store, to enable full BOPIS/Click and collect or curbside pickup functionality.

Integrated loyalty program – in a hybrid world, customers must be able to earn and use points through any form of interaction

Inventory visibility – if hybrid retailing is to work seamlessly, retailers must have the ability to manage inventory in one place.

I believe that ‘hybrid retail’ is more than the latest buzzword – it’s a real and growing imperative that will help retailers remain relevant to their customers, and grow their businesses in the post-pandemic world.

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