Shoppers are spending more time and money on digital purchases. More and more people are taking advantage of the fact that with just a few clicks, you can find a list of retailers selling the item you want, compare prices and check customer reviews before you buy.
The UK online share of retailing is expected to rise from 12.1% in 2013 to 13.5% in 2014 according to The Centre for Retail Research. Last year John Lewis reported online traffic from tablets rising by a quarter from 28% to 35% between Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, with the number of orders from tablets doubling since last year.
This trend typically triggers a flurry of articles of online vs. brick and mortar sales with the fear that online is taking over the high street.
However, in the end it really isn't a "we" or "them" scenario. The best shopping experience is often provided by using a combination of the two. Where retailing is becoming more and more competitive it is becoming more important to make the most of every channel. In some cases it is best to provide a combination of the virtual and physical shopping experience.
For example, shorter checkout times is the dream of every shopper and mobile payments are providing just that. Today, shops in Richmond & South West London are among the first in the country enabling customers to pay for their purchases with their smartphones and a PayPal app. A physical store using mobile payments is effectively combining a brick and mortar with an online buying experience.
Likewise, the biggest drawback for online retailers is delivery times. It is hard to compete with stores when consumers can do cash and carry. Today retailers and online merchants are collaborating with brick and mortar stores to make sure their products are readily available. eBay Now service in the US offers same day delivery on products from local stores and its acquisition of Shutl in the UK implies that a similar option could be available here soon.
Digital offers can also be used to drive traffic to stores. Shoppers who begin their search on mobile devices now have the option to be directed to the closest store with a relevant coupon delivered to their mobile phones. According to eMarketer, nearly nine in 10 respondents of a survey cite receiving coupons and special offers as a good enough reason to be tracked by advertisers, therefore overriding any concerns about personal privacy. A new report from Juniper Research has found that there will be 1.05 billion mobile coupon users by 2019, up from just under 560 million this year.
New technologies are also blurring the line between the online and brick and mortar shopping experiences. Shoppable windows are giving online retailers a physical "brick and mortar like" user experience while using digital technology to streamline the purchasing process and to speed up product deliveries.
In San Francisco, eBay Inc. Rebecca Minkoff, and Sony already enable consumers to buy merchandise from each brand via a glass panel, pay with PayPal and then arrange for free home delivery or pick up at the shopping centre. NEO's, a youth oriented Adidas brand in Nuremburg also enables shoppers to touch hotspots on the window to view product details and then purchase items using their smartphones.
It's clear to see that the online and brick and mortar shopping experiences is beginning to merge - adding convenience for consumers. The key to success will not be choosing one channel or the other but having flexible technology that can share and merge data between the two in order to provide a rewarding shopping experience for both retailers and consumers.