The Decline of Physical Retail May be an Omnichannel Opportunity
Is there a real decline in the first place? Perhaps retail is simply evolving, and with it, omnichannel marketing.
Whether or not brick-and-mortar retail is truly dying off is debatable. Yes, flagship retailers like Macy's and JCPenney are shuttering stores around the country, and shopping malls seem to be turning into derelict lots overnight. However, evolving digital technologies like beacons and VR continue to offer retailers new opportunities to bridge the digital-physical gap; not to mention major digital brands breaking into the physical retail space (Amazon's Whole Foods buy comes to mind).
But make no mistake, retailers face a trying time right now. The question is whether or not these challenges have any ramifications for omnichannel marketing.
“Absolutely. Omnichannel will have an increasingly larger role in furthering consumer engagement and driving sales as consumers demand access to all channels of shopping and with relative ease,” says Dave Dague, EVP of marketing at Infutor, a consumer identity management expert.
By its nature, omnichannel is a holistic melding of all channels, including in-store. This apparent dissolving of the physical retail channel could throw a great wrench into the concept of omnichannel. After All, retailers are perhaps the most affected businesses by omnichannel in the first place. The good news is it seems unlikely that physical retail is as doomed as it seems.
“Shoppers are still motivated to walk into physical stores to touch and feel items, browse and make purchases, exchanges and returns,” Dague says. “Retailers that embrace technologies to ensure an integrated omnichannel approach will continue to thrive.”
It may seem an existential upheaval in some regards, but Amazon's big play in physical retail is more likely a part of a greater trend of evolution in physical retail. These primarily digital companies stand to elevate the digital aspect of retail in today's climate, and their forays into the space signal an opportunity for physical retailers to up their omnichannel game.
Amazon made its name by providing some of the best customer experiences available. Bringing that level of commitment to the physical space gives retailers a tangible example to follow. But only if they learn the right lessons, and structure their channel strategy the proper way.
“The critical piece for retailers in utilizing an integrated omnichannel approach is ensuring that their foundational consumer identity data and the linked attribute date is accurate, complete and continuously updated so that every engagement can be personalized,” Dague says. “For physical retailers, combining the rapid availability and accessibility of online inventory with the in-store personalized customer service utilizing an omnichannel approach will be key for building and extending the customer lifecycle.”