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Online vs. Offline Retail – Blurring the Line between Bricks and Clicks

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Online store vs. brick-and-mortar store.

The internet has indisputably created new opportunities for retailers to reach consumers.  While many businesses have both real-world and virtual storefronts, there are also business entities that operate solely in the e-commerce arena.  This has spurred a lasting debate about whether or not brick-and-mortar stores will remain relevant as more and more consumers subscribe to the convenience of shopping online.

Still, real-world retail operations persist.  This is because today’s competitive advantage in retailing can often come down to the customer experience. There are plenty of consumers who still want to try before they buy, or who crave the instant gratification of taking products home immediately after purchase.  Plus, going into a retail store significantly reduces the potential for returns and increases upsell opportunities.

In addition, many retailers are finding successful ways to unify their business strategies.  The debate over bricks (physical locations) versus clicks (online stores) has long centered on several key factors, including:

– Cost efficiency

– Consumer preference

– Relative permanence of online brands

– Tangible interactions (i.e. touching products)

– Ease and efficiency of taking products to market

More recently, the debate has centered on mega-stores in the online arena like Amazon, and the impact they have on physical retailers.  However, the fact is that this debate overlooks one very important point: bricks versus clicks doesn’t have to be an either/or debate.  most retailers have found a happy medium that takes the best of both and unifies technologies, processes, and strategies to create a consistent experience for consumers across channels.

It’s safe to say that the traditional debate is now over. It’s not about one or the other, but rather it’s about the right blend of physical vs. virtual experience that makes sense for your customers, your products, and your brand.

If you doubt the benefit of such a strategy, just consider the speed at which Amazon has started to acquire physical locations – over 500, including Wholefoods and book stores.  While some businesses are choosing to evolve the other direction (Bebe closed all of their physical stores to focus on online successes), many retailers have come to understand the benefits of a unified commerce approach.

This could involve physical and online outlets, as well as kiosks, mobile apps, social media, and 3rd-party marketplaces.  The key is to maintain consistency with low costs, and higher profit margins.

Creating a Consistent and Unified Customer Experience

You want to inspire a level of familiarity, such that consumers know when they’re interacting with your trusted brand, whether they encounter you in the real world or via online or mobile spaces.

This process starts with understanding the customer journey.  How do consumers discover your brand and what role do peer reviews play?  Are price comparisons helping or hindering consumer interactions?  What do consumer purchasing habits look like, and how streamlined is your fulfillment process?

More importantly, what can you do to eliminate pain points and create a seamless experience that offers the same benefits online and in-store?  For starters, you need omni-channel visibility that ensures customers have access to the same inventory across platforms.  You can also beef up fulfillment options so that customers can pick-up in local stores or ship directly from other stores, mirroring the convenience of online ordering.

The Retail Business Model has Evolved

Over the last couple of decades, the challenges facing retailers have changed significantly, causing brands to rethink traditional strategies.  It used to be that brands differentiated by delivering unique, hard-to-find products, or by lowering retail pricing to undercut direct competitors.

These days, such strategies are essentially non-starters.  Consumers can find the same products across the globe, and now, consumers can comparison shop online and find the lowest priced goods in seconds.  You’re only going to hurt your profits by playing the price reduction game.

What can you do to stand out in this cut-throat environment?  You have to let go of the habit to solely focus on selling products and start considering all of the factors adjacent to making a sale, including conveniences like product availability and the speed and ease of fulfillment options, just for example.  Modern consumers have certain expectations, and you have to find ways to meet them if you want to remain competitive, and build relationships with these new tech-savvy consumers.

From there, you can start to examine competitive pricing and promotions, forecast demand with fulfillment in mind, as well as brand building through social efforts that engage your audience.  This can require a dramatic shift in your viewpoint and strategies, but you’ll be glad to hear that help is available.  With the right retail AI and predictive analytics solutions on your side, you’ll gain the ability to face a wide range of modern retail challenges head-on.

The Role of Retail AI and Predictive Analytics

Retail AI technology can help with consistency, increased profit margins, and maximized revenue in a unified commerce retail business. Finding the right Retail AI and Predictive Analytics solutions can help you to plan for success in the modern retail marketplace in a variety of ways, whether your brand subscribes to bricks, clicks, or both.  Your top priorities likely revolve around increasing sales and profits, minimizing costs, and possibly scaling operations efficiently.  Suitable retail AI and predictive analytics can help you with:

– Demand Forecasting

– Inventory management

– Merchandise, Assortment, and Store planning

– Price management & optimization

– Promotions, event and markdowns

This is made possible by focused analytical solutions that can help you track and predict:

– Channel and item performance

– Competitive pricing strategies

– New product, seasonal event, and dynamic life cycle performance

– Promotional media performance

– Inventory needs

– Future demand across channels

Sure, you can cobble together your own system using a combination of incompatible software solutions, but why waste your time when fully integrated AI and predictive analytics are available to do the heavy lifting for you by working off an integrated solution platform.  The right solutions can boost sales (by 10-25%), reduce inventory costs (by 25-40%), and improve forecasting, as well as visibility into products, categories, and your business as a whole.  Superior retail AI and predictive analytics solutions empower your business to make wise decisions that benefit you and your customers.

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