Written by Macdara Duncan, International Sales Director at Sprii
A recent Retail Gazette article discussing the current state of retail closures and openings in the UK caught my attention and got me thinking. The piece suggested a future marked by fragmentation, as some brands retreat from physical stores while others aggressively expand.
I believe commerce is no longer limited to a strict division between “bricks and mortar” and “clicks,” but rather, it’s evolving towards a hybrid model that combines physical and digital elements. The emergence of new technologies like live shopping does not signify the downfall of traditional retail. Instead, they provide innovative tools for brands to effectively connect with consumers, generate exposure, and boost sales across multiple channels in an all-encompassing omnichannel strategy.
The future isn’t either/or – it’s both.
Combining physical stores with digital solutions
When looking at closures mentioned, take into consideration Boots as an example. The company doesn’t intend to abandon physical stores completely but rather consolidate locations, directing their investment towards revitalizing their flagship stores. In a similar vein, Argos is closing down standalone stores in order to expand their presence within Sainsbury’s supermarkets.
These strategies are in line with what modern consumers prefer – consolidated, experiential physical destinations. The days of uninteresting, uniform storefronts are slowly disappearing. In order to attract customers to their stores, retailers must offer engaging in-person experiences that make it worthwhile for people to leave their homes.
Even though significant investments in physical retail are made, it doesn’t mean digital innovation is excluded. Let’s take the example of M&S, where their new flagship locations will incorporate interactive technology such as virtual fitting rooms. This enables customers to digitally “try on” items and conveniently collect their purchases in-store. This is, by all definitions, a hybrid model of Digital and Physical to benefit both consumers, and as a result, the business.
Enabling omnichannel journeys requires the fusion of digital agility and physical presence. Instead of being perceived as a threat, new technologies offer retailers the opportunity to seamlessly blend these two worlds.
Live shopping serves as a prime example. In my role at Sprii, our company collaborates with brands to host shoppable livestreams on various social platforms. This allows audiences to browse products in real-time and conveniently make purchases without having to leave the app.
Yet, the necessity of stores remains unchanged. In fact, they have proven to be essential for retailers combining physical and digital presence. For example, major brands like Sephora and Boots have adopted live shopping technology, hosting shoppable livestreams on social platforms and experimenting with initiatives like “Facebook Live Fridays”. This allows audiences to browse products in real-time and conveniently make purchases without leaving the app. However, this convenience also generates curiosity and interest in exploring physical stores.
Digital innovation provides new opportunities
The success of well-established brands incorporating live shopping into their broader omnichannel strategies highlights why newer digitally native companies also continue to open physical stores. Lounge Underwear, a popular lingerie brand, has successfully built an online audience and is now embarking on the exciting journey of opening its flagship location.
In the words of their CEO, they recognize the undeniable significance of having a physical presence alongside their digital success. After experiencing exponential digital growth, the opportunity arises to establish an immersive brand experience and community hub through in-person retail. By complementing this with digital tools, it becomes possible to achieve next-level engagement across various channels.
Retailers who adopt this hybrid approach are likely to witness an increase in revenue, if not least due to a broader brand exposure. Physical stores continue to play a crucial role as hubs for community engagement and immersive experiences. Furthermore, digital innovations like live shopping provide retailers with the means to deliver personalized experiences and compelling narratives online.
Navigating through significant challenges, such as budget pressures and lease terms, requires both imagination and evolution. The future will be shaped by brands that leverage disruptive technologies to enhance their physical presence.
Above all, consumers continue to crave real-life exploration and meaningful connections. Live shopping and ecommerce have the potential to meet consumers’ needs rather than suppress them. The notion that traditional retail is dying is exaggerated. By embracing innovation and purpose, brands can strike a balance between physical stores and online platforms, paving the way for the future of retail.
At Sprii, we provide retailers with cutting-edge technology that transforms disruptions into new opportunities.
The potential for immersive and ‘hybrid’ shopping experiences is just emerging.