Trends and Insights

Why the Future of Shopping is Hybrid, and It’s Already Here

Published
Sep 15, 2021
Written by
Elodie Huston
Elodie is a Senior Content Marketing Strategist on the Content Team. She spends her logged off hours cycling, scouting out soft serve, and yelling about really good books.
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People are embracing “hybrid” shopping experiences, fusing their online and in-store habits. Are brands prepared to deliver? 

The acceleration of online shopping has proven to be a lasting trend. But while consumers are shopping online more than ever, they’re not kicking their in-store shopping habits any time soon. Brick-and-mortar retail spending is expected to grow 6.3% in 2021, the fastest growth we’ve seen since 2011. Even brands who were built online—including Glossier and Warby Parker—are investing in physical stores to connect with shoppers IRL. 

Shoppers aren’t limiting themselves to one type of experience. Instead, they’re combining their online and in-store shopping habits to discover new products, do their research, make purchases, and connect with brands. 

What is hybrid shopping? 

Hybrid shopping combines the best of online and in-store shopping to create a personalized, convenient experience. 

Think about your own shopping habits. When you spot the perfect shirt on Instagram, you may want to try it on in-store to double-check fit to avoid having to return it. Maybe it's not quite right, but you find a better-fitting shirt and order it in a few colors online (when you know, you know). 

There are a lot of touchpoints leading up to buying your new shirt. You want tailored shopping experiences that cater to your preferences at every step of the way—and so do your customers. 

But creating seamless brand experiences isn't a matter of flipping a switch. Brands need to invest in technology to make their online and in-store experiences feel integrated.


Bringing the online experience in-store with buy online, pick up in-store (BOPIS) options

Also known as click-and-collect and curbside pick-up, BOPIS helps brands bridge online and in-store shopping experiences in one seamless process. In short, it feels like magic.

  1. Shoppers browse your website and choose the items they’d like to order online. 
  2. As they’re checking out, they indicate their preferred pick-up location. 
  3. Then, they receive their order confirmation, along with instructions for picking up their order. 
  4. Store associates will pull in-stock items. If an item is out of stock at that specific store, associates may collect it from another store or their warehouse to make sure it’s available at the shopper’s preferred pick-up location. 
  5. Once a shopper’s order is ready, they can pick it up from a dedicated area (like a designated parking spot) or your customer service desk. 

Initially, BOPIS gave shoppers a safer, contactless way to shop during the pandemic, particularly when retailers were closed. But now that stores have reopened, consumers have embraced the experience they grew to love for its convenience. Not only do shoppers get to choose how they’d like to browse your items, they can forgo shipping windows and costs. This personalization pays off—70% of shoppers say BOPIS has improved their shopping experience

Bridging online and in-store experiences with BOPIS is good for brands, too. This year, BOPIS sales are expected to make up 9.9% of all retail e-commerce sales. On top of boosting your e-commerce revenue, BOPIS helps you drive additional foot traffic. Once a shopper is in your store, they may look around and end up purchasing additional items.

Fostering product discovery across channels

In the past, shoppers primarily found new products by window shopping or browsing your stores’ aisles. Today, they want to connect with your brand and find products online, too. You can engage them through a series of digital touchpoints—including your website, social media, email, and text messaging—as well as in-person. 

But the key to creating a cohesive, seamless, and memorable brand experience is to use the best parts of your in-store features to inform your online ones—and vice versa. For example, think about how you can translate your in-store product displays into digital experiences—including interactive landing pages and gift guides—to foster product discovery no matter where a shopper is. 

Keep in mind that consumers aren’t leaving their digital habits at home when they visit your store, so you should incorporate mobile touchpoints into your physical locations to elevate their in-store experience. Invite shoppers to sign up for emails and texts at checkout and include in-store signage with QR codes, linking to educational content about how to use the product or highlighting its key features. 

Personalizing customer experiences 

Clienteling used to be at the core of many brands’ personalization strategies. Store associates would form 1:1 relationships with shoppers, learning more about their preferences to recommend products. Today—with the rise of e-commerce and the ability to act on customer data—brands are able to form relationships with many more customers, at scale. Consumers still want human connections when they’re shopping online, though. 

That’s why brands are bringing their clienteling strategies online to offer shoppers personalized, humanized experiences. Your brand can connect with your customers on a personal level by offering virtual consults with store associates, where they can get personalized recommendations based on their tastes and needs. You can also connect with shoppers in real-time by offering digital concierge services, answering shoppers’ questions or providing personalized recommendations via text, email, or during social streams.  

Personalizing your customers’ experience needs to extend to how you speak with them once they leave your store, too. Using direct communication channels like SMS allows your brand to keep the conversation going–something that clienteling was never set up to do. 

With text messaging, you can use the first-party data you’ve collected to personalize your messages based on shoppers’ preferences. You can even geo-target messages to help drive foot traffic to your stores and personalize their experiences when they visit. For example, by texting your VIPs with an invite to an exclusive in-store event you can encourage brand loyalists to shop in-store. 

Investing in your tech stack can also help you connect with in-store shoppers online. Displaying in-store signage promoting your brand’s loyalty, email, and SMS programs will help you engage high-intent shoppers and drive repeat purchases. Integrating your online and in-store experiences with SMS creates a seamless experience for your customers, too. Consider delivering a special offer via text message that they can use at checkout—or invite them to join your loyalty program to start earning rewards right away, incentivizing them to make a purchase.  

In a blog post announcing the expansion of their physical presence, Glossier founder Emily Weiss writes, “At a time when the appetite for online shopping, accelerated by the pandemic, has never been stronger, the promise of immersive, real-life experiences rooted in discovery and connection is paradoxically also more resonant than ever.” We agree.

Want to discover how shoppers have shifted their behaviors, what they want to see and hear from brands, and how they perceive SMS marketing? Explore our 2021 SMS Marketing Consumer Report

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