The Future Of Offline Retail Businesses in Digital World

The COVID pandemic has divided the retail market into BEFORE and AFTER, and what was normal in 2019 — in terms of sales — became quite atypical in 2021. The buyer behavior has changed drastically since the pandemic started, and retailers now have to somehow adjust their businesses to the new reality.

In this article, we’ll try to share some insights on the retail market development in 2021 and beyond, as well as go through some significant changes that the industry has experienced over the past two years — to understand if there’s anything left for traditional retail in the world of social distancing and frequent lockdowns.

Ecommerce vs Retail: How Did Pandemic Affect the Market?

Ecommerce vs Retail: How Did Pandemic Affect the Market?

To better understand what the future holds for the retail market, and who can actually win the brick and mortar vs ecommerce debate, let’s see what happened to the industry in the last two years. 

State of e-commerce during the pandemic

No surprise that during the pandemic, e-commerce sales have boomed. Millions of people were forced to stay home and, as such, shift their spending habits to contactless payments and online shopping. And the figures show exactly that — according to the Digital Commerce 360 research, in 2020 the top 500 retail companies generated over $849 million in online sales, which is a 45.3 percent increase compared to the 2019 numbers.

Moreover, in the twelve-month period from May 2020 to May 2021 Amazon marketplace sellers sold 3.4 billion products, which is almost 26 percent higher compared to the same period of 2019/2020. The e-commerce market is growing at an unprecedented level and it seems like it will continue to do so, even with the restrictions being gradually eased worldwide.

State of brick & mortar stores during the pandemic

Even before the pandemic, the number of customers moving from brick and mortar to online stores was tremendous, and as the pandemic developed, many believed there’s no way that the retail market would be able to make it through. According to a survey conducted by Forbes in the third quarter of 2020, 67% of customers said that they switched to buying clothes online.

Another data that comes from the McKinsey survey shows that 75% of consumers in the U.S. have completely changed their shopping preferences. And according to Bloomberg, in the next five years, one in every 11 retail stores will be closed. So does it mean that retail stores “are slowly dying”? Not exactly.

Will Brick & Mortar Become a Thing of the Past?

Will Brick & Mortar Become a Thing of the Past?

Even though many offline retail businesses were not able to cope with the new world*, the brick and mortar segment is trying to get its pre-pandemic positions back by offering customers a blending shopping experience, which would be able to take digital shoppers back to offline stores — without ‘physically’ doing so. 

So the short answer to the question of whether brick and mortar stores will disappear would be a solid ‘No‘. Even with the widening gap between brick and mortar sales vs online sales, the offline retail business is here to stay. What is actually about to change is the focus itself, which would help offline merchants move from pure ‘brick & mortar’ to ‘click & mortar’ mode of operation.

* — According to Fortune, in the U.S. alone, retailers were forced to close more than 12,000 stores in 2020.

How Retailers Plan to Advance Their Businesses in the Near Future?

How Retailers Plan to Advance Their Businesses in the Near Future?
How Retailers Plan to Advance Their Businesses in the Near Future?

Speaking of how to grow retail sales and the actual methods that merchants utilize to achieve that, these tactics should be divided into two major groups based on the impact they produce:

  • Industry level. In the upcoming years, more and more retailers will shift to showrooms instead of traditional stores. Many merchants will leave the retail streets and move to business parks instead. The logic is pretty simple here: to lower operational costs, rent, warehouse expenses, etc., and move as many operations online as possible.
  • Retail store level. While pursuing the goal of marrying the offline and online markets, retailers start to integrate more digital tools and techniques. Some of them refer to personalization tactics (adding chatbots to the store website, customizing client journeys, prioritizing different target audience groups, etc.) while others are more advanced and focused on providing clients with an in-depth shopping experience (like use of virtual reality tools that allow shopper to visit their favorite store from the comfort of their homes, or augmented reality tools that help to understand how that chair from the new IKEA collection will fit into your room).

When it comes to exploring ideas to boost sales in retail with the help of digital tools, and bringing online shopping experience offline, we cannot but mention live chat video tools that help retailers enhance customer experience and quality of service that is being provided.

Since video chats work really well in presenting products to prospects in real-time, they became a new trend that is gaining momentum on the market — jewelry stores, tech shops, specialty stores, finance companies, car dealerships, etc., are actively adopting such software and integrating video sales in their daily operations. 

Summary

Strict travel restrictions and lockdowns during the Covid-19 pandemic put thousands of retailers into a situation where a complete absence of shoppers in the brick & mortar locations became a new normal. The fall of offline sales, in turn, forced many retailers to adapt and digitize their operations, in order to stay afloat.
In the upcoming years the brick & mortar segment, in particular, is going to change even more, no doubts about that. And if you are eager to know how to increase sales in retail store with the help of digital technologies and live chat software for business, simply contact us. We would be happy to provide you with more information and further assistance!

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