Guest Post by Mark McGeachen

Online retailing has grown spectacularly in the last decade, thanks in no small part to the convenience it offers and online’s low-cost business model. With no expensive retail space and minimal staff to pay for, online retailers can sell their goods and services at very competitive prices and still drive a profit.

Over this time, online shopping has become more personalised, interactive and more engaging. There are however still many situations where online retailers can’t compete with the advantages offered by bricks and mortar stores.

One major differentiator that physical retail shops offer and web stores can’t replicate is the social experience. Yes, there are online social networks, but that’s not the same as catching up with your partner, family or friends and spending a few hours at the local shopping mall.

Another difference is ‘feel’. Many customers still want to see, feel or perhaps try on a product and that’s something they can’t do online. Sure, virtual fitting rooms have tried to solve the clothes problem, but it’s never the same. You can’t feel the fabric, check the quality of the sewing or determine how well the garment fits.

Similarly, if you’re looking for a lounge, a bed, a chair or some other item of furniture, you’re probably going to want to sit on it, lie on it and feel how comfortable it is. You may be able to determine the dimensions and appearance of the item online, but they are only a small part of the overall evaluation process.

This is why showrooming has become so popular. It allows consumers to confirm whether the product is right for their needs and also provides all the pricing benefits of internet shopping.

Where showrooming and online purchasing fail consumers, however, is their inability to deliver immediacy. In a physical store, you fall in love with an item, purchase it and take it home to enjoy that day. Consumers are free to act upon their decisions instantly and obtain immediate gratification.

While internet retailers are countering this with increasingly fast delivery times, even a next-day delivery is likely to be too long a wait for some demanding consumers.

Hence, the more recent rise of webrooming, an approach to shopping where shoppers carry out their product research on the internet, find the items they are interested in, then go to the physical store to take a final look and make the purchase.

It’s an effective way of countering the online competition and it’s where the flexibility of physical retail stores with omnichannel capabilities shine. A retailer with an online and offline presence can be there when the consumer conducts their internet research. They are also there for the customer after the research has been concluded, when the customer wants to click-and-collect by placing their order online before coming into the store to collect the goods. Or when the consumer chooses to reserve-and-collect, an approach that blends the assurance of having the product ready and waiting, with the ability to view or try-on the merchandise before committing to purchase or handing over any money.

The pure-play internet retailer only has one channel to market – the internet. In contrast, bricks and mortar stores can offer their customers the best of all worlds. They make it easy for consumers to shop online, in store, or carry out blended transactions such as in-store ordering combined with home delivery. And if you’re a retailer looking to attract and retain consumers, offering omnichannel ease, convenience and choice is a great place to start.

Mark McGeachen is the CEO of Island Pacific, a provider of retail point of sale solutions.

Want to contribute a guest post to Appliance Retailer? Contact the editor.