Digital Experience : The Future of Retail

Retail is confronting a colossal crisis putting the entire industry at stake. This is due to the fact that global e-commerce is destroying the complete economic model of revenue and profitability of retailers. Even though physical stores truly have the potential to be the most influential and efficient form of media available to a brand due to the unique experience it provides to it customers, the dependency of our society on stores is quickly withdrawing because of the outstandingly effective way digital media manages to serve our basic clothing needs. According to Doug Stephens from The Business of Fashion, “global e-commerce increased by 19 percent in 2013 alone” and it’s likely that “upwards of 30 percent or more of the total retail economy will be transacted online by 2025”. This dramatic change in the fashion industry is of important matter since Canada’s economic is strongly affected by it. In fact, the outstanding rise of online retailers inevitably causes the downfall of Canadian retail stores such as JACOB, Reitmans, Parasuco, Mexx and many more. Thus, as the retail sales widely missed expectations in the last months, the Canadian dollar moved lower in the past few weeks. Therefore, it seems unavoidable for retailers to define and create a new shopping model that is better suited to their growing, technology-oriented clientele in order to assure a sustainable and successful future for Canadian brands.

Online retailers have taken the strengths and benefits of physical stores which allows them to offer wider collections, to have driven low prices and costs as well as to provide to its consumers ratings systems and reviews as a marketing strategy. This has led to an experience-driven commerce which is a digital experience seamlessly blending content with commerce that fulfills the consumers’ expectations for an immersive and inspirational shopping journey. Experience-driven stores are engaging customers beyond their websites since they provide entire customer lifecycle through a fusion of digital marketing, content management, analytics and data, personalized transactions and commercial campaign. Moreover, offering great digital in-store experiences is an essential and clever strategy for retailers since it provides the shopper a personalized experience and ensures the sustainable competitiveness of retailers. Hence, the impressive use of new advanced technologies will enable a complete understanding of the consumers’ wants and needs through anonymous facial recognition, video analytics, mobile ID tracking and other systems. This new concept is focused on creating an emotional connection with the customer through the deliverance of contextual experiences that are critical for the understanding of a customer.

This concept will work similarly as “cookies”, tracking devices used on various websites to track down one’s activity history on the internet to better advertise him or her. For example, while a shopper browses into an upscale retail store, through a face recognition model, the exact pair of shoes that our shopper added to her online wish list a few days ago will be showcased on a digital board. Therefore, the shopper receives a personalized in-store experience without even knowing it.

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As a profit-oriented person, I personally believe that online stores radically conquer physical stores on the economic aspect of the situation. Indeed, online store are extremely more profitable than physical stores due to the huge amount of capital generated and to the ridiculously low costs. Indeed, online retailers’ lower cost structures are beneficially caused by a variety of cost efficiencies. Indeed, by shutting down a physical store, positions such as cashiers and sales clerks are eliminated. From an employee perspective, this model highly lowers the costs for the staff that can mostly be eliminated through automated checkout procedures. Moreover, there will not be a need anymore for stocking or tidying up merchandise in the actual store since, slides of products and rows of shelving will give way to store designs inspired by museums and art galleries. Hence, real estate costs are dramatically lowered since brands and companies will reduce greatly their amount of stores and will invest in smaller stores that still allow space for in-store media and interactivity with the product itself. Since online stores abolish the need for directing shoppers to the storefront to complete a purchase and increase the revenues, there is a growth in the conversion of on-line content into sales opportunities. Furthermore, the actual sales attributed to the physical store will mater less than the powerful shopping experience that is responsible for generating them. Therefore, retailers will then build their economic model around providing a live in-store experience based around their products instead of relying solely on the margin from individual product sales.

Despite the rise of online shopping, the purchase path of the majority of shoppers remains centered on the store through the immediacy virtues and the actual physical contact with the product. Even though a lot of shoppers finalize their purchase online, they still try on the clothes in stores. Whether stores will adopt gallery-esque presentation and highly advanced technology, I am convinced that as long as manufacturers keep producing luxurious woven fabrics and classic tailored clothing; there will always be a need for actual stores. Even though advanced technology rapidly changes our mentalities and behaviors, clothing traditions such as classic tailoring and custom made couture outfits will never die.

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