January 09, 2018

  by Nigel Hollis

I was talking to Dale Beaton about the future of retail and he gave an insight that came from shopping for clothes with his teenage daughter over the holidays. I had suggested that their feelings about the shopping experience were probably very different but apparently not; they both disliked it.

Why? Because the experience felt archaic. Dale called out three aspects of the clothes shopping experience that made it feel old-fashioned.

  •     Navigating physical stores is far slower and less rewarding than in the digital world. What!? You mean I have to visit separate places to find what I need?
  •     Search is unnecessarily difficult. Think about the process of searching through racks of clothes to find the size you want (and, of course, that is the one that is sold out).
  •     Dealing with store assistants demands unnecessary social interaction. All that tedious, ‘hallo, can I help you’, ‘I can check out back’, is so yesterday.

As Dale suggested shopping in the digital world is a much ‘cleaner’ experience. Search, click and let it ship. If it does not fit, send it back and try again.


All of which is a really interesting juxtaposition to my attitudes toward shopping for clothes. I like my clothes to look good, but I don’t want to spend too much time on it so you would have thought I would be a natural e-commerce kind of guy. Wrong. I have to see the clothes for real. Feel what it is like to wear them. Try different combinations. As a result, I am a physical store ‘mission shopper’. I know what I want, know where I am likely to get it, and spend as little time on the process as possible.

The strange thing is that I have come to realize that the same need to experience physical aspects of something applies to some other types of product too. After a half hour of researching smart WiFi-enabled plugs online I still wanted to actually see what I was getting for my $30 and check it out. As I noted in this post the physical need to interact with purchases is just one reason that online retailers are now complementing clicks with bricks.

This leads me to one basic conclusion: segmentation is not dead provided it is based on needs and values rather than demographics. Both brands and retailers need to work out who their customers are likely to be and what they really want from the shopping experience. As Lee Kirkpatrick Smith, Global Head of Shopper at Kantar TNS notes, this can be a complex process but it is one omnichannel retailers have to get right. Consumer feedback has an important role in guiding decisions. From a brand perspective, the store needs to be positioned so that it is the obvious place to shop – online or off – when the need arises, and then the shopping experience needs to be crafted to fit the needs of the individual shopper at a specific point in time.

So do you feel physical shopping is archaic or necessary? Or are online and offline interchangeable depending on your need and feeling?


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