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Online or offline? What strategies should retailers adopt? (Includes interview)

The COVID-19 pandemic has created a major groundswell for brick-and-mortar businesses to take their business online, with many companies setting up e-commerce sites around the world. Is this a complete solution for a retail strategy? According to Zenreach CEO John Kelly , there are other things to consider.

Kelly points out, customers have always been omnichannel consumers and the best brands cater to both the online and offline nature of retail. It can be quite useful for example, for retailers to have an area to showcase their products. While e-ecommerce giants like Amazon experiment with 3D images and even virtual reality, many consumers still like to look and touch, especially when making larger and more expensive purchases.

According to Kelly: “The industry has always been moving to an omnichannel world. While ecommerce has seen tremendous growth over the past 10 years as brick-and-mortar businesses have shifted online, we have also seen the reverse—online businesses launch brick and mortar stores.”

In fact, even the big players have moved to have some for of physical presence, as Kelly notes: “Indochino and Amazon are just two examples of ecommerce businesses that have recently launched offline stores.”

Looking at the current picture, Kelly summarizes the state of play: “Unfortunately, through this growth period, most retail businesses have divided their sales, marketing and even operations into two distinct teams: online and offline. The challenge of this structure is that it can lead teams to compete, rather than cooperate, for customers. In addition, it can obscure the view of the customer—which is neither an ecommerce nor an offline customer—but both. It is imperative for merchants to start to view the customer in this holistic manner.”

In terms of what retailers can seek to achieve, Kelly opines: “As new technologies, like ours, enable retailers to identify their customers both online and offline, we will see more and more retailers take advantage of this new more expansive view of the customer.”

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