From the outside, the store hasn’t changed. In fact, from the inside as well, it’s often the same story. However, the context of where the store fits into the retailer/customer relationship has evolved significantly, and that’s where businesses today are experiencing challenges.

There was a time when bricks-and-mortar was the only channel. It remains the main channel for shopping, but the world around it is very different.

Now the store must not only be aligned with retailers’ ecommerce activities, it must be able to support them – from customers arriving with greater knowledge and purpose as a result of online research, to physically fulfilling orders through ship from store and click-and collect.

Creating this seamless omnichannel model, in which experiences and interactions are integrated across all customer touch points, is something that retailers continually strive to achieve. However, there is still progress to be made – and the public is aware of this.

To get to the root of what omnichannel shopping actually looks like today, iVend surveyed 1,000 consumers across 5 European countries. The results, outlined in our latest report The Omni-Illusion: why are customer connections disappearing when shoppers reach the store?  – are intriguing: for example, more than two thirds (68%) of shoppers research a product online before they reach the store.

Why does this matter? Because customers’ needs change as a result of this increased knowledge, and store associates need to react to that.

Today, most consumers will have completed part of the journey to purchase online before reaching the shop floor, and this will alter their requirements. If they still have questions, these are likely to be incredibly detailed, requiring an expert level of product knowledge. If their queries are satisfied, they will want to get in, buy the goods and leave as quickly as possible.

Being intuitive to customers’ needs goes beyond understanding their point in the purchase journey. Our survey revealed that there’s a real appetite for personalization within bricks-and-mortar, such as tailoring marketing promotions to their buying preferences, similar to what many retailers already do online.

So the bar has been set by the consumers we surveyed, but how successfully are retailers meeting these expectations? Not as well as they could be, they believe, and the reason for this is technology.

Retailers’ close relationship with their customers online is engendered by a strong statistical understanding of their behavior patterns. They can respond by tailoring marketing, layout, product information and much more to each individual shopper’s tastes.

But when that same customer comes into a store, that wealth of data tends not to be seen or used by the retailer, so their experience is disparate from the personalized encounters they enjoy online.

To bridge this gap, retailers need to be investing in the technology that allows them to integrate this information into bricks-and-mortar interactions. Interestingly, 1 in 5 European consumers we surveyed said they would like sales associates to use tablets to tailor their experiences, while a quarter would like loyalty points delivered to their mobile, so they can accumulate rewards in whichever channel they choose to shop.

So in answer to the title question – are we really any closer to bridging the online/in-store gap – the answer is yes. Retail is not just talking about omnichannel; it is making changes to enact it. We just need greater clarity on the store’s role within this new model, and a roadmap for the technology retailers need in order to implement to meet customer expectations.

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