Recent times have seen the growth of the phenomenon known as hybrid retailing – the online/offline integration of shopping channels to the point where they are completely intertwined and inseparable. It’s the natural sequel to the increase in online shopping, which started years ago but was of course sky-rocketed by the enforced restrictions of the pandemic.

Whilst online ordering certainly is important to meet many customers’ needs, an online-only channel doesn’t cut the mustard with all shoppers, any more than a brick and mortar only option.

  • Click & Collect/BOPIS

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Hybrid retailing is online/offline integration, allowing the shopper to seamlessly mix channels within a single transaction, for example, by ordering online for BOPIS/Click and Collect or Curbside Pickup, or having home delivery, but returning goods to the brick and mortar store rather than by post.

In their report, ‘The future hybrid store’, CBRE defines online/offline integration as ‘bringing in-store shopping and e-commerce fulfilment into the same space’.  In fact, according to research from Edge by Ascential, retail stores worldwide could dedicate as much as a third of their space to online order fulfilment.

According to figures published by Forbes in early 2021, 26% of shoppers had ordered same-day delivery, from a physical store in the previous six months, up from 14% in August 2020. One large US retailer generated 18% of its sales online, but fulfilled 95% of all its sales from physical stores.

The other trend is the growth of rapid pickup, which means fulfilling orders from stock that is already in the in the store. When a retailer offers the option for pickup within 30 mins, there’s no time to get goods from the DC!

All of which means that stores, far from becoming less relevant, as some predicted in the early days of online shopping growth, play an ever expanding role in the retail shopping experience.

This gives retail stores the opportunity not only to get customers back through their doors, but also to upsell and to make the shopping experience personalised and enjoyable. As Avinash Kaushik, author of the book Web Analytics 2.0, says, fulfilment can be a “feelings-generating moment.”

Stores can play a number of roles in the online/offline integration experience for customers:

  • Enquiries – customers who have ordered online expect the store to be able to update them on the status of their order. The store needs to have full visibility of the online ordering system.
  • Placing orders – if an in-store customer likes an item, but the colour/size they want is not in stock, store staff should be able to place an online order for them while they are at the store.

  • Fulfilling orders – staff need to be able to find the right stock, and also handle multi-item orders, where one item may be ready for collection, but not the others.

  • Returns – many customers prefer to return an item in store, rather than have to send it back by post or courier.

Staff have always been at the frontline of customer experience for brick and mortar shopping, but now they play a crucial part in the online/hybrid experience too. If that experience is not positive, retailers risk losing their customers to competition.

So it’s essential that retailers give retail store staff the retail technology tools they need to be able to deliver an outstanding customer experience. Those tools include:

  • Order visibility – having fully integrated channels means that staff in stores need to have access to the online order management systems, so they can see, place and update orders, and provide customers with the information they need.
  • Mobile POS – for the best customer experience, staff need to be able to come to the customer, and transact with them anywhere in the store. mPOS solutions helps them to access order and stock information, place orders and take payments, all without leaving the customer’s side.
  • Inventory visibility across the entire stock pool – with real-time updates for improved inventory accuracy and product availability.

Retailers understand the importance of online/offline integration and the increasingly important role of the store in the customer journey. Most shoppers, however, wouldn’t even recognised the terms omnichannel retail, or hybrid shopping. For them, it’s simply ‘a great customer experience’.

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