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How to Bridge the Digital Divide in Retail

The world of retail has to tip its hat to innovators like Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, and countless others. Their contributions to the technology sector are innumerable, but these contributions ultimately aided other industries, namely retail. Who would have thought ten years ago about shopping on a mobile phone? Continuous innovation allowed consumers to place orders over the phone using physical catalogs, which was definitely a step in the right direction. Discontinuous innovations took it a step further and created phones to view and purchase from these catalogs on the go.

Sparked by an online order to Pizza Hut, the digital shopping revolution has been expanding at an unforeseen speed. Retail’s digital and physical channels are becoming more and more integrated every day. However, according to a study by Deloitte, retailers are failing to keep up. As the “digital divide” continues to widen, retailers continue to be slow to react. But it doesn’t have to be this way, and integrating your digital and physical channels is easier than you’d think.


How Are Consumers Shopping Today?

Online retail has proved itself to be more than a passing trend. In 2014, 6.5% ($305 billion) of retail sales were online, and 93.5% ($4 trillion) of retail sales took place in a physical store. This leaves many retailers scrambling to improve their digital channels to cash in on online sales. While the increased attention is deserved, it doesn’t justify losing track of physical stores.

The mobile commerce revolution is well underway, as well. In 2012, Deloitte’s digital study predicted that mobile would influence 14-15% of in-store sales by 2015. Those projections were actually exceeded just a few years later. In 2015, mobile influenced roughly 24% of in-store sales. In essence, more and more people are looking up information about products while in physical stores to finalize purchases. While this provides the fear of showrooming, studies have shown that showrooming is actually on the decline. Deloitte’s new study proves that this mobile usage improves physical retail stores’ sales.


What Retailers Can Do About It

Retailers need to stop considering their eCommerce and physical stores as different businesses. Instead of having your channels compete with one another, have them help each other out. Roughly 80% of shoppers now interact with a brand online before visiting a physical store. The research they conduct becomes extremely useful in their path to purchase. But keep in mind, 50% of shoppers value in-person advice for in-store shopping. Equip sales associates with iPads to provide shoppers with product reviews and other color variations to help your channels work together.

Collect customer data online or in-store to offer coupons for a specific channel. About 39% of shoppers who receive personalized coupons, promotions, or recommendations actually spend more. Deloitte believes that retailers should have no such thing as a “digital strategy.” Consumers no longer recognize “channels,” and focusing on only one part of your business will only lead to partial success. Focus on how the customer travels through their purchase process, and learn from it. A lot of the time, their shopping experience begins on social media. Shoppers are 29% more likely to make a purchase the same day when they use social media to help them shop. Optimize every marketing and selling channel you have to cater to the customer’s needs.

As long as retailers view eCommerce and physical stores as separate businesses, the digital divide will continue to grow. Retailers should stop observing new tech innovations as “trends,” especially with the introduction of the smartwatch. Giving one channel more focus than the other will cause poor balance and hurt your business. Vertically integrate digital into your business, and you can help lead the digital retail revolution. Who knows, maybe your innovation will turn you and your store into an icon.

Min-Jee Hwang

Min-Jee is the former Director of Marketing at Wiser. She has extensive experience working with SaaS companies and holds a BA from Carnegie Mellon University and an MBA from NYU Stern.

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