EDITORIAL How physical and virtual commerce are cementing their place in the new world of shopping – Views

Shopping is about to get more hybrid (Image: DC Studio/Shutterstock)

As e-commerce continues to grow and expand, especially cross-border and among millennials, news from the United States regarding top-ranking retailers in Google searches paints an entirely different picture.

Data from Searchmatics suggests that “big box” retailers, including Apple, Walmart, Nordtrum and BestBuy, dominate search rankings – and all have large physical footprints. In fact, no pure play online retailer is in the top 10.

So what gives? According to the study, these retailers topped the charts not only because they are well-known and loved brands regardless of channel, but also because they were omnichannel successful. Click and collect, curbside pick-up and Bopis have all triumphed over the reopening of retail as consumers embrace online commerce, but still want to go to stores.

Throughout the pandemic, these retailers have dramatically improved their online offerings and, combined with the introduction of these hybrid retail tropes, have reestablished their presence in the new retail landscape.

What does this mean for UK retailers? Pretty much the same story is probably playing out here too. Big box retailers have done a lot to improve their online presence and many have introduced new hybrid models, such as M&S drive through.

But there is one elephant in the room: returns. One of the reasons stores are attracting shoppers again is that many online returns offer isn’t up to snuff. In fact, it’s one of consumers’ biggest concerns, with 89% saying return policies and logistics are now their top priority when shopping online.

What’s interesting is that for two-thirds of them, they actually want the ease of exchanging items rather than just returns. It’s something that real-world stores offer and will likely continue to see these players keep fighting.

And they must all fight back, because one of the other results of the pandemic and the changing shopping habits it has instilled has been a decrease in brand loyalty among shoppers.

While 42% of shoppers say they prefer buying with brands they know and have used before, they are happy to switch if they get a better price or better service. 35% actively try new brands just for fun.

However, this search for better prices and convenience is seeing some models online start to carve out a niche. Secret Sales, for example, which sells luxury fashion at the end of the line, saw phenomenal growth in 2021, adding 687 new brands to its list – and attracting 31 million unique visitors.

There is clearly room for both online and physical retail in the market, but the two are getting closer and closer. The physical is added to the digital, with click and collect and feedback. But don’t underestimate the role of digital. It’s here to enhance the physical, and with more interest in metaverse and virtual shopping tech than ever, we’ll likely see even more changes and more hybridization in the coming months.

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