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The role of physi-digital shopping in the future of e-commerce

I will admit, physi-digital or ‘phygital’, sounded like made-up jargon when we first started talking about the concept. Why did we need a separate term for ‘omni-channel’? But after stepping back, I’ve come to not only use, but almost love, the term. Almost. 

As marketers, the concept of omnichannel can feel too overwhelming with so many new channels and ways of engaging with customers to consider. But physi-digital understands the concept of aligning the experience a customer has with your brand across your online and in-store presence. 

After years where we saw an unparalleled rise of e-commerce during the pandemic – both for consumers and organisations – a completely understandable level of normalisation took place upon reopening (due to a rebalancing with in-store activity), followed by tightened purse strings (inflation).

With that being said, consumers are undoubtedly demanding better, more personalised experiences as they prioritise where their hard-earned cash is spent. Therefore, understanding the customer journey and truly connecting both is where the true power of physi-digital shopping comes into effect. 

This is an opportunity for retailers to build a mutually-beneficial relationship with loyal customers so they can acquire and retain them for life.

Understanding the customer journey 

If a key aim for the retail industry is to get a handle on just what customers are doing, there is always room for improvement. To effectively market to consumers, you need to understand how they’re living, how they’re feeling, and how they’re spending – something that is constantly changing and evolving. 

For example, marketing during the pandemic (consumers generally had more spare income and more free time) is very different compared to now (where consumers are cutting back spend). Consider whether your current strategies and channels are effective for – and sensitive to – the current environment. How are customers utilising both in-store and online experiences as part of their consideration and purchasing journey? What is the preference and dynamic between the channels? Are they researching a product online and buying it in-store? Or the reverse?

A significant portion of the industry still over-relies on one channel when looking to engage with shoppers or target audiences. And while there is no doubt a subset of customers who only shop in-store, we now have customers who have grown up with online shopping experiences alongside those who were converted to some degree during the pandemic. Therefore, you have to strike a balance between the two, because if you disproportionately favour one channel over another you can potentially alienate a portion of your audience. 

Improving cross-channel customer engagement means identifying a shopper when they move from one channel to another – for example from app to website to instore – and then understanding the intent signals along this customer journey.   

But consumers are paying more attention than ever to privacy, yet their desire for exceptional digital experiences remains strong. So, what are marketers to do when third-party data has been a key driver in delivering one-to-one experiences at scale? The answer is still data, but first-party data, given directly from consumers to brands. 

True physi-digital shopping isn’t having both, it’s connecting both 

A blended customer experience means more than simply having the option for your customers to engage with your brand digitally or physically, or maintaining brand consistency in both spaces. True physi-digital shopping requires you to connect both on a deeper, more personalised level. 

Identification holds the keys. If you can’t connect the shopper who has begun their purchase journey online, before completing it in-store, you’ll be wasting your resources and budget on following up on conversions that were already made. Customer identification solutions can help you identify and tailor your messaging to your customers.

Most customers are willing to give you their information if there is a clear value exchange, so don’t shy away from highlighting what’s in it for them. Collecting and growing your first-party data is not enough — you need a customer identity solution or customer relationship management (CRM) system that can activate it across channels and drive more revenue efficiently.

Consider click-and-collect services as the convergence of physi-digital shopping – buying online then collecting your order in-store. The process makes it more convenient for your customers to shop how they want without alienating your brick-and-mortar audiences. But it has a number of additional benefits as well. Capturing first-party data along the process allows you to build up a richer customer profile, with the ability to then retarget customers at an individual, 1:1 level based on your knowledge of their past behaviour, purchases and preferences. 

As you craft new customer journeys, remember the best strategy will be unique to your brand. Your marketing campaigns should match your business outcomes and the platforms that might work best for your customers. There are plenty of techniques to do this. There’s also some great technology out there to support retailers and brands on the journey.

About the author: Jamie Hoey is Australian GM at Wunderkind.

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