By Amtosh Singh
Tapping into the recent past, we find ourselves living in an environment where the average Indian consumer is embracing the e-commerce boom faster than anyone could have predicted. The e-commerce boom in India took off successfully with customers jumping on the online bandwagon given the advantage of the convenience and competitive pricing.
With the arrival of e-commerce, many brick-and-mortar stores experienced a sharp decline in sales, while some struggled to survive and were eventually forced to shut down primarily due to the massive price competition from online giants. A BCG, Morgan Stanley, Industry Estimates research published by the EconomicTimes in March, highlights that in 2016 the Indian online retail market penetration was recorded at about 2.1%, and in less than two years (by 2018) it has risen to 17% with about 69 million online shoppers.
On the other hand, a large number of online stores started to fade away as quickly as they came into being. There are several factors that contribute to the success or failure of both physical and online stores. However, as we step into the future, we realize that to survive in the long run, both sales formats must aim to function together in a collaborative manner.
While online stores can help increase both visibility and reach of brick-and-mortar stores, physical stores can support e-commerce platforms by building trust and loyalty amongst customers with the real-time accessibility of products and services. Physical stores also bring the touch-and-feel retail experience helping reduce time on the lengthy purchase and return process rampant in the online space. While online stores are successful in many ways, primarily due to great deals on trusted brands (enabled by the absence of huge real estate and operational costs), the same platform does not work as effectively for certain product categories like jewellery, cars, beauty products, perfumes and many others.
Both formats have their advantages and disadvantages, but for customers what matters most is trust. Retailers that begin doing business online first followed by a physical showroom or store actually work on developing the ‘trust’ factor and leveraging this in their future expansion.
To bridge the gap between online and offline, physical stores can provide an engaging digitally driven in-store experience and layout. For example, large touchscreens where visitors can browse full collections while being able to touch and feel a few key pieces to understand the quality and finish. They can also utilize mobile apps to announce new arrivals in store, offers and sales, collect feedback or provide one-click returns or exchanges within the store. The clothing brand Zara is a great example for an offline store that has successfully integrated the convenience of online shopping to their offline store with seamless in-store returns and real-time inventory synchronisation with their retail stores that you can check on their website.
Indeed, there is a growing opportunity to tie-in such features between e-commerce platforms and physical stores to give both old and new customers an overall better experience to ultimately retain their loyalty and trust.
Amtosh Singh is the Co-founder and Director of PropShop24.
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