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There’s no doubt that the devastation reaped by the pandemic was cataclysmic to physical retail, yet it would be naïve to discuss the high street in terms of fragility, and discredit the value that consumers place on brick-and-mortar experiences. Commerce will always exist in a physical sense, and as we settle into 2021 advertisers should be learning to support physical with digital, and digital with physical – rather than viewing them as separate entities.
2020 Challenges & Changes for Physical Retail
The pandemic undoubtedly widened the already growing gap between brick-and-mortar and online commerce, and as social restrictions were introduced and shoppers were forced online, physical shopping was rendered near impossible. Retailers had to adapt and overcome – from furloughing staff and rewriting business strategies to shifting to a pure play mindset. Even during the brief lockdown interlude, when shops reopened, the outlook for the socially encompassed high street began to look bleak, as many consumers still opted to order deliveries direct to the comfort of their own home. Many are left wondering if there is a future for physical retail.
The resounding answer is yes, despite the devastating impact Covid-19 had to the high street, commerce will always exist and that means there will always be a level of demand for bricks-and-mortar. Ultimately, it all comes down to consumer experience – shopping will always go beyond simply purchasing products. The industry needs to address the importance of consumer experience in a post-Covid world, and how essential it is for the recovery of brick-and-mortar stores.
How Digital E-Commerce can support Physical Retail
It goes without saying that the brick-and-mortar was struggling pre-Covid, and when the high street did temporarily close, market dominance was all but handed to Search Engines. However, they were not the only digital micro-sector that Google achieved dominance in. Google Maps excelled, introducing Local Ads that rendered the channel competitive. Retailers suddenly had the ability to advertise their physical stores directly on Maps through paid ad spaces – using digital to support their physical store. Facebook wasn’t far behind launching their platform alternative to Google Maps, in the form of Store Traffic campaigns. A channel which again allows retailers to generate store visits and boost physical sales rather than purchasing online.
Using digital e-Commerce to support physical retail can provide significantly more customer insight than offline retail activity in a physical store. Conversely, online marketing and on-site analytics can provide a comprehensive profile of your average new or returning customer.
After a year where discretionary media budgets were most-definitely on the chopping block for retailers, demonstrating and utilising the maximum capabilities of digital media campaigns will be vital for retailers to rise above an ever-busier online marketplace in 2021.
How Physical Retail can support Digital E-Commerce
The need for digital retail activity to support physical store retail is clear, but the relationship between the two is by no means a one-way street. In-store retail has been supporting online e-commerce for a lot longer than commonly thought, and one clear and often overlooked method of this is through e-receipts; which have been gaining momentum in retail for the best part of a decade.
In the right hands, the simple e-receipt can be a miracle jump-start for retailers looking to successfully launch their digital presence. Implementing a truly efficient online strategy will incorporate the customer-base into every aspect of one’s digital marketing. Advertisers should never assume that physical retail is only capable of supporting online retail through front-end activity – the two channels work harmoniously through the entire retail life-cycle.
Looking forward to the year ahead, advertisers need to recognise and reap the benefits associated with embracing an omnichannel approach – realising the value that a harmonic physical/digital relationship has on the retail life-cycle, and capitalizing on it.
For more information on how physical retail and digital ecommerce can support one another, download our omnichannel whitepaper: The Harmonic Relationship between Physical and Digital Retail.