Ecommerce moves back into retail – where it belongs

Jan 5, 2013 | Digital reinvention

The biggest and brightest online entities continue to trial new ways to blend the best aspects of the retail and online experience. This is particularly so for high touch or high risk products, such as education, prestige and luxury goods where the online experience in isolation is out of step with the service expectations of high-end consumer groups.

Trend Hunter, the surreal, unsettling and sometimes visionary source of crowd-contributed emerging trends, recently released their top 20 hot trends for 2013.
At number 8 is the emerging trend of “physical / virtual“.

According to Trend Hunter’s Jeremy Gutsche, physical / virtual is “moving digital into retail spaces – bridging the gap between tangible shopping and ecommerce”.

Physical/Virtual is the practice of creating retail shopping spaces in which ecommerce merchants can craft a physical brand experience around the transactional experience of online purchase. A critical component of this type of environment appears to be the presence of trained, informed staff. It leverages the benefits of the IP developed for and in the brand’s contact centre and draws this together with the brand’s website in a retail environment.

It’s not an entirely new idea. What is new though is that it signals a major shift in thinking.

In the past, ecommerce merchants have begrudgingly re-introduced brand and human components to the online experience, whilst at the same time maintaining that ultimately all products can and should be sold online with little or no human interaction. This approach has for some time failed to acknowledge the distinction between low price/low commitment products like shoes, books and music; and highly complex emotionally driven products.

Physical/virtual represents a bitter-sweet acknowledgement that for premium products and services – such as higher education, prestige auto and luxury goods – where the time, financial and emotional impact of getting it wrong is high, the physical brand experience and the people who deliver it are paramount to developing the level of trust required to purchase.

It sends an interesting message for those who maintain that brand no longer has a place in a digital world or that the evolution of online sales strikes a relentless path toward a world without the cost and complexity of human interaction.