The Smart Shopper – How Retail must React to Digital Disruption

There will be a fusion of physical and digital worlds where at some point in future consumers will intuitively shop without perceiving the difference in a world of superposed channels.

IBM Retail, 2015

Although the above statement is under 12 months old, there is already a case to suggest that “there will be…” should be changed to “there is…” such is the impact technology is having on a customer’s retail experience. Digital disruption of physical retail is a very real thing in 2016 (you can’t fail to have heard about it!) and it’s transforming the way your customers consider, browse, buy and share your products. So how are you preparing for a brave new retail world?

Media will have us believe digital disruption spells the end of bricks and mortar stores but it’s simply a brave new world for retail. A world where consumer and retailer relationships can thrive as well as digital and physical experience can connect to make the purchasing path a more exciting place for all. Let’s look at the most disruptive retail trends on the horizon and the opportunities for retailers.


Try and tell me you’ve never visited a shop only to check the prices online for the same product. The practice of simultaneously shopping in-store whilst browsing for a better deal online, that’s showrooming and it is happening in most stores right now. The pricing power of websites such as Amazon and increased 4G connectivity makes a quick search for comparable products/prices online as easy as anything retailers can offer in-store. Consumer’s connection to technology also has a role to play. In a 2015 digital study by Synchrony Digital, 43% of consumers polled stated they would never go shopping without their mobile phone. Although not a surprise, this statistic does highlight the challenge for retailers. It’s like having a competitor set up a pop-up store between your shelves and checkout!

However, retailers can act and ensure showrooming works to their advantage. Deloitte Digital found consumers who use a device before and during their shopping journey convert at a 40% higher rate so enabling the use of the technology in-store and ensuring your brand is set up to be a) part of the browsing trend and b) competitive/consistent when it comes to pricing could reap dividends both in-store and online.

Cross Channel Convenience

One area where the increase in online sales is not impacting footfall in bricks and mortar stores is the growth of cross channel convenience, most notable in click-and-collect services. According to Retail Week, click-and-collect represents more than 50% of online sales for big department stores in the UK and analysts expect spending via click-and-collect to grow 82% over the next five years. That’s a real success story for digital and physical retail – and importantly how the two can operate hand-in-hand – and it’s a model that is mutually beneficial for consumer and brand alike thanks to its convenience. With delivery in their control, customers can collect their goods at a time that suits rather than coming home to a red slip from the Post Office whilst the streamlined delivery process is operationally beneficial for brands. Not to mention the impact driving online customers to store can have on footfall and incremental sales. According to Verdict, the retail consultants and analysts, 32% of customers made an additional purchase the last time they used click-and-collect. That’s measurable value for considering both physical and digital in your customer journey.

As an extension to click-and-collect, some retailers have also trialled brand partnerships to encourage footfall. In 2015, Boots signed a deal with fashion retailer ASOS that allowed its customers to collect orders in their local Boots store. Although not a consideration for all physical stores, the tie-in between fashion and cosmetics as well as Boots strong position on the high street means the partnership has been a great success for both brands without damaging either’s reach, sales or reputation.

Omnichannel Aspirations

Although cross channel is already demonstrating ways in which physical and digital retailing can live in harmony, in our digitally enabled world consumers want to have a seamless experience across multiple channels with no obstructions. No difference between goods, services, availability and pricing. That’s omnichannel and it’s a holy grail for retailers.

Consumers are already channel agnostic taking the time to pre-shop on a website, check prices on a comparison engine, gauge opinion on social media, visit in-store, buy (both online and in-store) and then return to social for peer validation. If consumers are channel agnostic then its now down to the brands to follow suit and meet them along their journey. This will lead to better relationships, a more connected customer, increased sales and better brand building.

Digital Disruption – Store of the Future

From smarter payment options to the use of technology in-store, it is clear the store of the future is going to be very different to what we’re seeing on our high street today. Yet it is still connected by one common theme: customer experience. We have covered that in our comments on both ‘Connected Stores’ and ‘Omnichannel’ and its a part of our own platform, the guided sales software product that can be integrated in any businesses’ existing systems.

With IGS, we’re connecting the customer journey to allow brands to promote advocacy, allow for cross-sell opportunities and put the power of customer experience in the hands of retailers. As consumers demand more – whether that’s an improved experience or better service or the opportunity to engage more – a brand needs to be able to deliver. That’s the essence of creating a lasting customer experience and it will be the cornerstone of any retailer looking to outlive trends and become that store of the future.

The simple truth is retailers cannot ask their consumers to choose between physical and digital retail because it’s not a case of ‘either or’ any longer. It’s the job of the retailer to provide a seamless brand experience across both and respond to the needs of the rapidly shifting customer to stay relevant. Your stores are going nowhere but – if you want to keep your customers onside and in-store – you need to embrace a brave new digitally disruptive world.

Are you already witnessing the much talked about digital disruption? I’ll be dealing deeper into some of the challenges mentioned in the post in the coming weeks. So make sure you subscribe to the blog.

Looking forward to hearing your views,


Note: a number of the stats were taken from this infographic – so thanks to the makers and contributors.