Hybrid Retail: Blending Online and In-store

Retailers are creating shopping experiences and engagement that combines the best of online and in-store to create more meaningful, seamless shopping in all channels from grocery to fashion. They are using innovation and data to meet customers wherever they are, and offer a non-disruptive, positive experience. 

We know that post pandemic customers have missed browsing and returning home with their purchase straightaway, understandably they have also cited ‘getting out of the house’ and ‘social interaction’ as reasons they are heading back in store. 

Even though retailers are digitizing their operations, it’s not an all or nothing situation. “We’re seeing that online experiences are less of a replacement for in-person interactions, but more of a complement to them,” says Megan Karande, Product Marketing Manager for Square for Retail. Customers still want to experience the joy of walking into a store, bumping into someone they know, finding the exact item they want, or discovering something new. 

BCG research on shopping habits revealed that “Consumers in 2022 are opting for hybrid-shopping rather than strictly online, with 48% of people preferring hybrid-shopping compared to 39% this time last year”  

Retailers understand that the customer buying journey is constantly evolving, highly personalised and shaped by world events, local events, and personal circumstances and that this journey often crosses from offline to online and back again before purchase is made. Shoppers are more promiscuous than ever before when selecting which retailer to buy from and will vary from week to week utilising a mix of online and instore depending on their shopping mission and other factors like timing and location. This has emphasised the need for truly hybrid retail and large and small retailers are embracing the opportunities and developing innovative omnichannel strategies and experiences at pace. 

“In 2022 we should expect most shopping journeys to start online, but that doesn't mean they should always finish there. In many cases an online shopping journey's best and most convenient destination is a physical store down the road,” claims Nick Brackenbury, CEO and co-founder of Near St. This understanding that path to purchase is no longer linear, is highly personalised and fluctuates almost weekly is driving the current hybrid retail model. 

With shoppers heading back into store retailers are considering ways to engage them at every stage of the instore experience while staying connected and relevant online. Store layouts are being revamped, with zoned areas that reflect shopper's lifestyles and passions. We are seeing sports and fashion zones in the grocery multiples and coffee shops and lounge areas in fashion or home retailers. Beauty bars, play areas, bulk buy and zero packaging stations have been installed in supermarkets. AR / VR and digital screens are commonplace in many stores from high street to independent and grocery and offer enhanced communications and targeted promotions as well as personal shopper experiences and visualisation of products. Service and products offerings are blurred with restaurants selling groceries (a typical retail offering) or retail businesses selling services like online cooking classes, workouts, and other experiences.  

The ‘Just Walk Out’ check out free concept pioneered by the online retailer Amazon offers shoppers convenience, speed and security with a cashless payment system. This has now been adopted by Tesco and Sainsbury’s and now the discounter Aldi trialling with its own version ‘Shop &Go’. All the retailers use in-store cameras and artificial intelligence to identify the products that customers take from shelves, so they can shop without scanning and leave without going to a checkout. 

There have also been noticeable further enhancements to click and collect, with orders placed via instore tablets whilst shoppers have lunch, a coffee, or a beauty treatment. The order is then available to be collected or taken to the customer in situ at a convenient time and location. Kerbside pickups, Uber and Deliveroo delivering groceries, and even robot home deliveries from locals and convenience stores all add to the friction free shopping experience. This customer centric and experience led approach doesn’t stop instore. Shoppers can receive targeted and personalised offers that are accessed online and utilised instore, and QR codes that are only available instore that unlock offers and unique content that shoppers can access on the go and online. 

“An omnichannel strategy might come to life via in-store shopping appointments to elevate the consumer experience, accessing a customer’s online sales history to offer in-store discounts, or arming sales associates with customer order history so they can share personalized recommendations. In today’s commerce landscape, in-store has become a sales channel that pairs with Instagram, TikTok, or the online store," states Amir Kabbara (Director of Product, Shopify) 

Hybrid retail reflects the way we all live now......Connected to our devices, wanting to be informed and influenced, appreciating personalised offers and info that feels relevant to us, yet seeking out and valuing in person experiences that make us feel good.