By Pano Anthos, XRC Labs
As major retailers continue struggling to profit from their brick-and-mortar stores and malls are forced to close their doors, it is becoming increasingly obvious that the modern shopping experience is in dire need of change. Many stores have responded by shifting their focus to developing e-Commerce platforms, but these efforts fail to address the core issue at hand. Demand for physical stores has not wavered — rather, the century-old practices of today’s stores have lost their appeal.
The majority of today’s consumers still prefer physically engaging with products over online browsing. Online retailers with no initial intention of opening brick-and-mortar stores, such as Warby Parker and Amazon, have profited immensely from expanding their businesses offline. Their success lies in their ability to bridge the consumer’s online and offline experience, incorporating e-commerce technology into their physical locations. Instead of treating their stores and online platforms as separate sales channels, the successful retailers of the future will be those who seamlessly integrate the two.
As a dissatisfied consumer myself and the founder of XRC Labs, an accelerator for disruptive retail and fashion solutions, I have explored many interesting approaches to merging the online with the offline. Retailers have to work to find the common thread between the e-Commerce and brick-and-mortar experience. Cell phones have great potential to occupy this space. For example, consumer-store mobile messaging systems can provide effective and frictionless on-demand service, since they do not require the consumer to download new apps or adopt new technology habits.
One of the largest advantages of using an e-Commerce platform is the ability to aggregate consumer data and present customers with relevant content, maximizing both profit and efficiency. Today, customers with online profiles and purchase histories enter stores totally anonymously, and retailers have few ways of tracking in-store behavior. In turn, retailers are incapable of predicting consumer needs and providing personalized service, and every customer has the same generic, inefficient experience. If customers allowed stores to access their online browsing history and track their in-store behavior, they could shop much more relevant merchandise offline. Of course, retailers will have to prove to skeptical consumers that their experiences will improve enough to make infringing on their privacy worthwhile.
Online shopping also appeals to consumers who want to research products and make informed purchases. While retailers allow their customers to consult merchandise popularity metrics and reviews online, in-store products are typically arranged chronologically or by collection. Implementing some of these consumer-centric online features could help generate store traffic.
Contrary to what most retailers may think, transitioning from physical stores to e-commerce is not the answer. Successful retail lies at the integration of both sales channels. Store messaging systems and behavior tracking, product customization, and renting options are some of the more promising ideas on the table today. But none of them will be possible if retailers don’t agree to leave their traditional sales practices behind and radically update their culture.
Pano Anthos leads XRC Labs as its Founder and Managing Director. Having founded 4 startups around key platform shifts, he saw the seismic shift coming to retail and with the right vision and timing recruited Parsons School of Design and Kurt Salmon to be founding sponsors. Now with 18 accelerated startups, 10 active world class retail sponsors, and 60+ business mentors, Anthos has built a world-class ecosystem for retail and consumer goods innovation at XRC LabsHe leverages a deep startup network in Silicon Valley, New York, and Boston to fuse leading technology, e-Commerce and user experience innovations to existing customer-oriented businesses. XRC Labs is currently accepting applications for its third cohort class.