For any retailer, being able to efficiently serve customers in both urban and more rural areas is key to establishing wide brand awareness and a dominant market presence. For retail technology expert Conversity, this means building a fluid, cohesive omni-channel shopping experience that caters to the diverse needs of those living both inside and outside of major cities, rather than considering online and in-store as being two largely separate entities.
Recent research by consumer and location intelligence company CACI supports this point. According to the study, retailers that do not maintain a physical store presence – alongside a website – in a particular catchment area typically experience 50 per cent lower online sales compared to those that do have brick-and-mortar stores.
According to Laura Arthurton, CEO of Conversity, this evidence supports the idea that both online and in-store channels complement one another, and that blending elements of the two is the key to building a wide geographical footprint.
Arthurton said: “Having a presence across both high street and online can be hugely beneficial in building positive customer relationships, even in an age where the likes of Amazon are dominant players. A recent survey we conducted found that 64 per cent of millennials think it’s important or very important to interact with someone in-store when purchasing high-value products like electricals or furniture, which says a lot about how the high street still very much has a place. The decision by some pure-play online retailers to open flagship physical stores is also indicative of this trend.
“This is the case even for those living in areas that might be a fair distance from a retailer’s nearest physical store, especially if they live in an area of slower internet connectivity. Having a high street presence helps brands to get closer to their customers, by focusing in-store experiences on a particular flagship product or range that resonates strongly with consumer demand. This is especially pertinent if you’re a retailer whose core demographic is based in towns and villages.”
To maximise success in this area, Arthurton believes that retailers should try not to see the online and in-store sides of the business as being separate from one another, but rather as being part of a single, overlapping ecosystem where the various attributes of each are blended to suit customers’ specific needs, with technology helping to tie all of these elements together.
She added: “Customer convenience should be at the heart of everything you do as a retailer, so the ways that businesses sell to consumers should be adaptable according to where they are based and their individual shopping habits – consumers now routinely shop across channels, after all. Someone living a short drive away from a physical store might prefer a click-and-collect option that merges both online and in-store channels, and also gives the retailer a chance to showcase some of their other products in real life when the customer comes to the store to pick up their purchase.
“Alternatively, someone for whom travelling to a high street store would be too time-consuming needs a delivery option which is fast and efficient, even if they live out in the countryside. This may mean investing in a comprehensive logistics framework, but it will pay dividends when it comes to cementing brand presence on a national scale.”
Arthurton concluded: “Essentially, retailers need to be as flexible as possible for their customers, and this means thinking more fluidly about how customer relationships are built