May 17, 2017 by Ashwini Murthy

Abandoned malls, big-box retailers declaring bankruptcy, major players shutting down flagship stores – these have become constants in the retail news these days. The way people shop isn’t the same anymore. Sometime in the turn of the millennium,

With all this happening, it’s easy to assume that retail is dying and e-commerce is taking over. However, this isn’t entirely true.

The race stopped being about “How do we go online?” and became more about seamless integration of all channels from the perspective of the customer. Brick & mortar presence, app presence, online stores are all mere touch-points in a customer’s journey and each has a role to play.

“Omni-channel” which was once deemed as the future of retail is becoming reality.

Omni-channel is the integration of all the channels a company offers for a consumer to engage with them. A consumer could start off by looking at a product catalog, go to the store to get a better feel of the product and finally end up buying it from a marketplace like Amazon, albeit from the same seller at a better price. 

Major brands which were late to react to this shift were kicked out of the race. The ones that made it late, made it by the skin of their teeth. According to a study by S&P Global Market Intelligence, department stores, apparel and electronics have the highest risk of going bankrupt. The food industry carries, the lowest risk.

In fact, most progressive and ‘online only’ retailers, like Bonobos, Warby Parker, etc. are opening physical stores in multiple locations. Some opened traditional showrooms where you can leave the store with the items you’ve purchased. Some opened guideshops which let customers try out the items they’re interested in purchasing and then allowed them to place an order online from the store.

Why is this shift to omni-channel retail happening?

Over a few decades, there has been a drastic change in way people shop. There’s a lot more to it than just moving things online for reasons like comfort. According to a study by CNN, over half of the households in the U.S had Amazon Prime memberships as on Jan 2016. Easy return policies have made online shopping cheap, and risk-free, especially in apparel which remains the largest e-commerce category. People stopped going to physical stores as much as they used to, which simply meant one thing – less strolling around the store making impulse purchases. To buy something like a TV, people make multiple trips to the local big-box store and end up buying a lot of smaller items on each trip. But with the onset of e-commerce, people can do all their prep online.

But that doesn’t mean people have completely stopped going to stores. They still want a great experience, they still want to occasionally visit fancy malls and run their fingers along the fabric before buying. They also want great deals.

Consumer behavior is a nuanced thing. Figuring out even the slightest drift and using it properly means an increase in profits. In a bid to monetize these nuances, a lot of companies started experimenting with heat mapping, visual merchandising, data-driven UI and UX strategies for their websites and mobile apps, A/B testing and a slew of personalised search, recommendation and omnichannel outreach strategies to see what works. Even a 1% increase in conversion rate can mean more profits. Companies are really trying to wring out the funnel for as many final consumers as they can. The big players have the resources to hire a team to work solely on funnel optimisation and all the above-listed areas. But what about comparatively smaller players? In a tide as huge as this one, they’re struggling to stay afloat and are merely paddling. How can they stand on their feet and make the most out of this?

Thanks to the availability of data (as more and more shopping & consumer footprint going online), a lot of companies are cropping up to solve these pain points of the long tail of e-commerce companies.

If you are a small-scale e-commerce company that wants to make the most out of this wave, here are a few companies that can help make the experience you offer much better:

  1. Cortexica and Visenze have established themselves as good product recommendation and visual search engines. Some emerging companies would be Tagalys and
  2. Bloomreach, which according to Fortune magazine is the only AI for commerce company leading the AI revolution, offers a basket of solutions starting from SEO for product catalogue, to personalisation.
  3. Companies like Zarget, Hotjar, Crazy Egg, etc. do heat-mapping, A/B testing and a lot more for your website.

So the move from offline to online, the move from your basement shop to a Magento or Shopify stores needn’t be a tumultuous one. SaaS-based e-commerce analytics, segmentation, tracking and personalization softwares have given you the ability to understand customers better than you would have, had you stayed offline.

Omni-channel distribution is better than being an indie retailer with a single store, simply because that’s what your customers expect from you!

Ashwini Murthy

Content marketer @ PipeCandy

A writer by day. Illustrator by night. Currently trying to conquer the B2B marketing world one baby step at a time. Loves everything outside her comfort zone.