When we talk about the future of retail, often discussions lean towards digital commerce, but the truth is that bricks-and-mortar is the pillar of modern shopping. The vast majority of purchases are still made through a store – although that doesn’t mean retailers can afford to rest on their laurels.

The continually rising popularity of online and mobile shopping threaten the store’s role within omnichannel retail, and force businesses with a bricks-and-mortar presence to keep pushing the boundaries – from layout to product offering and customer service – to offer shoppers an experience in sync with their online activities.

Following on from my 2016 ecommerce predictions, I want to turn my attention to bricks-and-mortar in this blog post. What changes and developments can retailers expect in the offline shopping arena this year? Here are a few of my predictions:

Inventory management will make or break customer satisfaction

Over the last couple of years, the industry has talked at length about what the store of the future will look like, and how to surprise and delight shoppers by bringing digital capabilities into the bricks-and-mortar environment.

This year, however, retailers will take a step back into the here and now, and focus their efforts on delivering on their promises in a complex, multichannel environment.

The key to keeping store customers happy in 2016 will be a single view of inventory in every channel and location. As iVend Retail discussed in our recent single stock pool whitepaper, a holistic overview of availability and location is fundamental to meeting shoppers’ demands.

Wherever sales and management personnel are located, this year each decision maker must have centralized, up to date inventory information available at their fingertips, in order to fulfil in a profitable way, without damaging sales at other touchpoints.

The cloud will breathe new life into store layouts…

Cloud-based technology is not new in itself, but there are still many retailers yet to embrace its wider benefits. This is set to change in 2016. For example, in physical retail, space is at a premium, and many companies are looking to increase sales per square foot. Migrating to a cloud solution will reduce back office IT requirements, allowing the store footprint to be better used for commercial purposes.

…and centralized decision making processes

In addition, the cloud has the potential to bring omnichannel businesses closer together in the year ahead, by making it easier to centralize and share customer information and best practices.

Particularly for retailers with a large store network, or mid-size organizations experiencing rapid growth, moving to the cloud is both liberating and binding. Adding sales associates or new stores to the network becomes seamless – often simply a case of connecting a new device – while it has the flexibility to be used in ‘alternative’ environments, such as pop-up stores.

Over the next 12 months, we are likely to see many retailers realizing the long-term value and agility that cloud technology brings, and making the investment in a remote IT solution that can help them innovate quicker and with greater cost effectiveness.

Clicks will build bricks

2015 was an interesting year for multichannel retail, as we saw a number of online businesses – most notably Amazon – begin experimenting with bricks-and-mortar outlets.

This will continue into 2016, as more retailers seek to combine the rich content capabilities of online shopping with the ability to touch and try items before purchase, something which can only be realized in the physical store environment.

Omnichannel technology investment will gather momentum

The movement of ecommerce companies into physical retail will add to the number of businesses running operations across multiple channels in the year ahead. This will influence a shift from omnichannel strategy to reality – or, to put it simply, more retailers will need to invest in omnichannel retail technology to give customers a cohesive experience.

Many companies have spent the past 12 months evaluating solutions available to the market. However, in order to progress in 2016, they will need to make a selection, and successfully implement and manage their chosen solution, in order to stay ahead of the competition.

A final piece of advice

I will leave you with one final thought: in 2016, the customer will no longer tolerate a disjointed journey to purchase across channels. The challenge for bricks-and-mortar will be to bridge the gaps most apparent in store encounters through the use of retail technology.

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