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Physical and digital retail increasingly intertwined


  • Around 43% of store-based retailers expect a net increase in the number of bricks-and-mortar stores they operate by the end of 2018.

  • 42% of retailers say faster delivery of online orders is their top customer-facing priority, and many plan to use stores to achieve that goal.

Bricks and mortar stores remain a key part of the retail experience, a new study suggests, as traditional and digital continue to merge and consumers seamlessly shop across the two touchpoints.

Around 43% of store-based retailers expect a net increase in the number of bricks-and-mortar stores they operate by the end of 2018 compared with 2017, and only 16% expect a net reduction, according to the annual State of Retail Online study released by the National Retail Federation (NRF) and research and advisory firm Forrester.

Additionally, retailers are proactively working on their real estate assets, whether testing new store formats such as opening some type of pop-up store (24%), and opening new warehouses or distribution centres (12%).

"This report shows more than ever that retail is retail regardless of where a sale is made or how the product is delivered," says NRF vice president for research development and industry analysis, Mark Mathews. "Products ordered online are increasingly picked up in-store or shipped from a nearby store, and digital technology being used at bricks-and-mortar locations lets retailers help customers find what they want or make the sale even if the product is out of stock. Traditional retailers have seen the opportunities of online selling for years now, and those selling online increasingly see that stores are part of the key to success."

Of the companies surveyed, 32% were "pureplay" online retailers while 57% were multichannel retailers, including traditional bricks-and-mortar retailers that also sell online.

New physical locations are important because 42% of the retailers surveyed say that faster delivery of online orders is their top customer-facing priority, and many plan to use stores to achieve that goal. Omnichannel services such as buy online, pick up in-store are an in-store priority for 21%, along with 15% that cite ship-from-store as a fulfillment priority.

Personalising the shopping experience was another top priority, cited by 15% of store-based retailers. Those surveyed are also focused on using technology to better enable store associates to help customers (12%), as well as improving the in-store experience (12%). To support their store associates providing service to customers, 61% of retailers surveyed plan to spend more on employee training.

Forrester VP and principal analyst, Sucharita Kodali, says of the results: "More brands plan to open stores versus close them this year, which proves that the physical retail store is not doomed as many think it is. Smart retailers understand that the two go hand-in-hand, but customer-obsessed retailers will continue investing in areas like omnichannel to provide customers with the seamless on and offline experiences they expect and now require. This year's survey proved that while they have work to do in 2018, retailers are moving in the right direction."

The study showed that digital continues to contribute significantly to retail overall, both directly and as it influences sales in stores. Around 70% of retailers surveyed noted that online conversion rates – the number of people browsing an item online who actually follow through and make a purchase online – increased in the past year. Additionally, 62% said repeat customers were up and 57% said average order values had increased.

While online sales coming from desktop computers currently double those of mobile browsers, mobile sales are growing 36% per year versus 8% on desktop. Mobile app sales are growing at an annual rate of 16%, and accordingly, 89% of retailers plan to increase investments in mobile initiatives, the survey revealed.



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