Three Ways How The Digital-Physical Blend Is Reshaping Retail

Retail can no longer afford to function within silos and must now encompass the best of both worlds- the sensory experiences of the physical along with the ease and personalization of online shopping. The most successful retailers will be the ones who seamlessly fuse the physical with the digital in the “connected store” and allow shoppers to channel-hop without friction.

What the world of retail is increasingly witnessing are powerful digital solutions that facilitate a seamless interplay of both worlds to create experiences that are ultimately physical.

In this article, we will delve into some of the ways by which retailers can bolster the inherent physical element of retail, with the help of right technologies.

Did you know?

A recent survey of global retail CEOs by PwC revealed that 51% of respondents surveyed plan to offer buy-online-pick-up-in-store (BOPIS) services in the next 12 months- an increase of 4% year-on-year.

1. Getting Flexible Phygital (Physical+ Digital) Fulfilment Right

Customers no longer follow any one fixed path to purchase; their shopping journey might start with a click on a website and end with an in-store pickup, or it can begin as window shopping at the mall and end at home with an online order. No matter the channel, they expect every order to be fulfilled in an efficient and timely fashion and their experience to be consistent.

Retailers therefore need to provide flexible fulfillment options and meet these expectations with the help of accurate inventory visibility.


A noteworthy example here would be that of Target. The big box retailer has been building flexible fulfilment facilities for several years now. Through the combination of BOPIS and direct-to-guest shipments, they have reported significant improvements in their out-of-stock metrics and also increased online sales.

A single, integrated view of inventory across their store locations and distribution centers has enabled them to rely on their entire network when fulfilling e-commerce orders. The strategy has given them the capacity to save meaningfully on shipping costs and fulfill e-commerce demands faster while also driving more traffic to their brick and mortar venues.

Many retailers are even offering ROPIS (reserve-online-pick-up in-store), which allows customers to reserve items online, but the payment isn’t processed until the in-store pickup is completed. Curbside pickup is also becoming an increasingly popular option. It makes shopping more convenient for time-crunched shoppers by delivering the purchased items outside of the store, directly to their car.

Endless Aisle

Several stores are now using endless aisle systems driven by tablets or in-store technology to help customers look through product information and make purchase decisions, whether or not those purchases happen in the store or later through online channels. US based clothing retailer Gap is using this model to sell items that are not actually present in the store or no longer in stock by ensuring fulfillment through e-commerce.

2. Embracing the Ubiquitous Social Media

Social platforms are now ubiquitous in the customer’s physical world. And some big high street retailers are driving home the digital-to-physical integration by incorporating physical manifestations of social media into their stores to draw mobile-savvy shoppers and adding a two-way social dialogue to the brick and mortar experience.

Topshop, for example, in a recent campaign for London Fashion Week featured billboards that constantly kept getting updated in tune with Twitter discussions on runway trends. The retailer responded to customers that interacted with @Topshop with a personalized shopping list.

Victoria’s Secret also got in on the trend with a program that asked customers to click a selfie in front of a display, share it on social media and show it to sales personnel for a free gift.

Nordstorm went a step further by labelling its “Top Pinned Items” in stores with a Pinterest logo, to highlight the items that were most popular on social media.

Many stores offer additional loyalty points to shoppers who are willing to share their purchases on social media. This not only helps the retailer gain improved visibility at minimal cost but also acts as social proof to boost conversion.

3. Rounding off the In-Store experience with Frictionless Payment

The final step of the customer journey is payment, and it is the area that can stimulate a positive end ‘emotion’. It goes without saying that the pain and frustration of waiting in an agonizingly long queue or searching for a staffed check-out can end an overall positive customer experience on a low.

Payment at check-out therefore needs to be rethought and enhanced. The advent of self-service and payment via smartphones promises to make checkout queues at the billing desk a thing of the past. Another option that offers speed and convenience to the modern customer is equipping the sales associates with hand-held, mobile POS so that they can process a transaction at any location in the retail store.

The Road Ahead

The future is about joining the numerous dots that constitute the customer journey and creating enduring customer relationships across channels. The physical presence remains time tested and incredibly valuable, empowered by digital.

Author : Krittika Banerjee, Research Analyst

Practice Head: Abhishek Mahajan, Digital Retail