We used to compare like for like retail experiences – supermarkets with other supermarkets, airlines with other airlines, car dealerships with other car dealerships. However, it’s not that simple anymore. We live in a world of perpetual change driven by brands like Amazon, who work in the constant pursuit of shortening that last mile using drone delivery, or Tesla, who are pushing the boundaries with their self-driving cars.

This relentless stream of innovation is reaching real people and is constantly raising their expectations. This creates an expectation transfer, consumers compare brand experiences across sectors, leading to questions like: ‘Why can’t grocery shopping be as easy as getting an Uber? Why can’t buying a car be as easy as streaming music through Spotify? Why can’t booking a holiday be as easy as using Whatsapp?

Consumer Expectations

Now, expectations transfer across industries, borders and price points and your competitors are no longer the usual suspects, but rather the best-in-class, whoever and whatever that class may be.

This blending of consumer expectation of brands means the true winners are those who can blend their consumer touch points.

This is not a new view, in fact most big brands with both bricks n’ mortar and online have been trying to do this since the introduction of services like ‘click-and-collect’. The difference now is that creating that seamless customer ecosystem is not good enough. Now you’re only as good as your last interaction.

We’ve seen this in our own work with Volkswagen UK, where we design, create and manage all of their digital touch points and have created a truly connected customer journey. In partnership with VW UK, we’ve taken the siloed experiences of buying a car, the stages of research, acquisition and ownership, into a world where the customer journey is enhanced by digital tools and capabilities. Making the point of transfer between online and their bricks and mortar stores increasingly seamless and progressive, edging consumers further down the purchase funnel.

There are many big UK high-street names that failed to react to increasing customer expectations and in turn failed to exist as business. BHS, Comet, Phones 4U, HMV, Jessops, Blockbusters, JJB sports; the list goes on. Clearly there were many reasons for the failure of these brands but, no doubt, not reacting to the changing way in which customers shop and understanding what their new experience norms have become was a big factor.

Online & Physical Presence

 For those retailers still in business this should serve as a clear lesson. The increased competition from big innovators such as Uber, Spotify, Roka, and the increase trend in direct to consumer from brands like Dyson, Sonos, and Northface, means customers want increasingly easy, joined up and brand led experiences. Brands simply should not think of their physical presence without thinking of their online presence and vice versa. Customer expectation is such that they need to be connected and work together.

Very recently we have seen Amazon take the blending of offline and online experiences to new heights with the launch of their Amazon Go store in Seattle (with plans to come to the UK). Here customers simply swipe their phone on entry to the store, take what they want and leave.

Powered by in-store technology and a single customer view, this system allows payment to be taken for the things the customer walks out with. It doesn’t take a leap of imagination to think that soon enough, with biometrics and facial recognition on the rise, you may not even need to swipe your phone on entry. Why can’t grocery shopping be as easy as getting an Uber? It seems that it can be just that.

Personalised Shopping Experience

Brands must begin to have a single view of their customers, understanding of how an individual interacts with their brand in various channels.

With this, brands will be able to supercharge and augment the in-store experience for customers. They will be able to recognise an individual through hyper-personalisation and target offers based on who they are, what they buy and what is predicted they may want.

This could even be at the level of personal pricing, where individuals are presented with a price for products that is only for them, a way to truly reward the most loyal of customers.

The experience also needs to be end to end. For this very reason many big technology and logistics companies are investing in how they can make the ‘last-mile’ better and more efficient. For instance Google last year patented a self-driving delivery truck that contains lockers so that customers can access their goods with a PIN, or Skype, who introduced a wheeled, autonomous drone that could be used for local delivery.

So in the battle of bricks n’ mortar vs. Online the winners will be those that are reacting to changing customer behaviors, are looking holistically at their interaction points, and who understand that you are only as good as your last interaction. Those that are joining up the dots, making it seamless to switch between channels, and truly blending offline and online are the ones who will end up on top.

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