The Seamless Shopping Experience
On August 12, 1994 the New York Times chronicled the first ever online transaction with the headline “The Internet is Open.” The sale was between two friends and a Sting CD.
The Times reported, “the team of young cyberspace entrepreneurs celebrated what was apparently the first retail transaction on the internet.” To most readers at the time, this was nothing more than a feel-good, novelty story with just a glimpse of what the future may hold.
Traditional Retail Is Dying
Over the next 20 years, eCommerce slowly evolved from the shadows of brick-and-mortar to the alleged killer of traditional retail. Throughout the 20-year journey, savvy resellers recognized the potential of reaching infinitely more customers with the click of a button online. But most of these resellers (and customers) viewed online shopping as an alternative option to brick-and-mortar retail rather than a complimentary piece helpful (and even necessary) to the overall shopping experience.
Looking back, it’s easy to understand this oversight. The development of smartphones, social media, and Google were still years away, and the sheer thought of connecting the physical and digital shopping experiences felt like a pipe dream. So resellers adopted a multi-channel experience, creating parallel paths to purchase, and eCommerce exploded.
Here’s where things get tricky: according to Internet Retailer, eCommerce has seen significant growth over the past 10 years but retail as a whole hasn’t shared the same level of success. Rather than growing the retail sector, eCommerce was just taking a piece of the existing pie, forcing formerly household names like Sears, J.C. Penney, and The Sports Authority to board up shop, leaving many to believe that traditional retail is on the brink of extinction.
And they’re right. Traditional retail is dying and will soon be a thing of the past. But a kind of new retail is emerging, and it’s projected to be stronger than ever. Enter omni-channel retail.
The Seamless Shopping Experience
All omni-channel experiences use multiple channels, but not all multi-channel experiences are omni-channel. Instead of simply offering multiple purchasing paths, omni-channel leverages technology to integrate multiple touch points, experiences, and moments of contact to create a seamless shopping experience.
Even with technology advancing faster than ever before, creating this type of approach to retail is challenging, time consuming, and expensive. But it’s worth it. When retailers create a comprehensive omni-channel experience they reap the rewards to the tune of brand reputation, consumer loyalty, and most importantly – growing sales.
In 2010 Warby Parker entered the market as an eCommerce retailer for prescription glasses. In more recent years, they’ve opened an estimated 100 locations across the U.S. including a store on 9th and 9th in the heart of Salt Lake City.
The eyewear retailer has seamlessly merged the two shopping dynamics (buy online and shop in store) into one gold standard example of omni-channel done right. Shoppers are able to visit the retailers website, complete a simple survey to help narrow down options, and select five pairs of glasses to have shipped to home for free.
Upon arrival, shoppers are able to try on each pair of glasses from the comfort of their own home, get advice and opinions from their friends, and weigh all their options before making a purchase. And if customers still aren’t satisfied with their options, they are able to visit the store in person to explore other looks.
The New Future Of Retail Is Here
Local grocer, Smith’s Food and Drug now offers Pickup, an online ordering service where customers fill-up their virtual cart and reserve a pickup time – available seven days a week between 7 AM to 9 PM. At pick up, Smith’s associates confirm the order and load the car without the customer ever having to take off their own seatbelt.
Unlike other multi-channel retailers, Smith’s pricing and service level is the same regardless of whether customers enter the store, buy online, or utilize Pickup. What’s more; if an item is out of stock, or the Smith’s team is unable to locate the exact item they offer, substitute products are available at no additional charge.
Just recently, Smith’s partnered with Instacart so customers have the option to have orders delivered to their own home within one hour. Instacart is available in most major cities (including Salt Lake City) and can be used for large retailers like Smith’s, Costco, CVS, Petco, and Sam’s Club.
Omni-channel retail is no longer a buzz word, and this isn’t just some feel-good novelty story with a hint of what the future may hold. Omni-channel is real, it’s here, and it’s the future of retail. The only question is: which retailers will figure it out before it’s too late?