When’s the last time you walked into a store and were truly wowed by your experience? Chances are your response will depend not just on where you live, but the types of store you go into, and the pressure that’s been placed on them to transform or face decline.

This leads me nicely into the third edition of our retail event insights series. I would like to share some interesting thoughts from the recent eCommerce Expo, where Doug Glenwright, General Manager of Retail Transformation at TUI, ran a fascinating presentation about omni-channel marketing in the travel sector.

Travel is a poignant industry to analyze because it was one of the first sectors that really learned how to make ecommerce work – and, as such, it has passed milestones (and overcome obstacles) that other sectors are perhaps yet to encounter when it comes to the omnichannel experience.

If the retail store has been pressured in new ways by the growth of online shopping, then the bricks-and-mortar travel agency has spiraled into decline. Consumers have quickly embraced the convenience of booking vacations over the internet, yet travel companies continue to invest in their stores.


Quality of customer relationships. With a complex purchase such as a vacation, shoppers like to feel they have the comfort of a face-to-face conversation to fall back on if the online process becomes too confusing.

There’s so much choice over the web, sometimes people just want personal advice and inspiration, rather than being overwhelmed with endless possibilities. It’s something we touched on in our recent review of Retail Week’s Tech & Ecomm conference – are you forgetting the person in personalization?

And there’s another, even more important, reason that travel agencies still have a role: trust. People place 30% more trust in companies that have a physical as well as digital presence – and that’s across the board, not just in the travel sector.

However, bricks-and-mortar only supplements the online experience if it brings the same agility and innovation to customers as ecommerce does, and this is where some businesses struggle.

In TUI’s case, the brand has invested heavily in creating a multi-sensory experience for its offline customers, bringing digital capabilities into the store. Digital advertising screens beam hi-res imagery and video content to passers-by through the shop window of its flagship store in the UK, for example, while those who venture inside have the opportunity to explore potential holiday destinations through an 83-inch touch-screen world map.

To further evoke the vacation urge, TUI even lights the store in a warm glow, reminiscent of the sun, and the scent of coconut flavored sunscreen wafts through the air.

Of course, tropical aromas aren’t going to work across all sectors, but these are great examples of how experiential marketing and digital capabilities can enhance bricks-and-mortar encounters.

To keep the store in line with today’s (and indeed tomorrow’s) expectations across all channels, businesses need to be finding new ways to engage with shoppers through retail technology. And each piece of this technology must serve the role of making life easier for the customer.

It’s interesting that this theme came to the fore just as iVend is releasing a new report – The Omni-Illusion: why are customer connections disappearing when shoppers reach the store? We surveyed 1,000 consumers across Europe to capture their views of the store experience, and the overwhelming feedback was that while bricks-and-mortar is still the most popular retail channel, it can feel disappointing when compared to the flexibility and personalization of online shopping.

To combat this perception, retailers need to take a leaf out of the travel industry’s book, and find new ways to increase offline shopping’s value within the omni-channel experience. This goes further than simply an image overhaul; it means implementing new digital techniques that will inspire even the least tech-savvy customers in a shopping channel they know and trust.

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