Malls have been gathering places for moviegoers, mall walkers and of course shoppers for decades. As consumers turned to ecommerce during the pandemic (in droves), the “death of the mall” was widely reported. The pandemic did change shopper behavior, with many sticking with buying goods online and impacting physical stores once it subsided.
However, there is some good news for brick-and-mortar retail and malls: Coresight Research recently reported that foot traffic at top-tier malls was up 12% on average in 2022 compared to pre-pandemic 2019 levels, while traffic at lower-tier malls was up 10%.
As foot traffic improves at the nation’s malls, the gap between digital commerce and brick-and-mortar retail continues to narrow. In fact, the U.S. Census Bureau reports first-quarter 2023 ecommerce sales at $272.6 billion, a 3% increase over the same quarter in 2022. With online purchases making up 15.1% of total retail sales in Q1, ecommerce continues to have a big influence on the retail industry at large.
As the divide between digital commerce and in-store shopping shrinks, the spotlight is now on the role omnichannel retail strategies play in both driving traffic to brand’s websites and foot traffic to physical stores. Our consumer study found that 79% of shoppers conduct product research online, on a brand’s website and on social media, while 37% do their research online and then purchase items in-store. 64% of shoppers usually first visit a brand’s online store when they’re looking for gifts and goods.
It’s clear that the experience customers encounter online will influence whether they head to the brand’s store or find products elsewhere. This also means that brands can no longer ignore the need to unify the online and in-store shopping experiences.
Curating the Ideal Shopping Journey
Creating a seamless shopping journey that drives foot traffic from an online store to a physical store should be a top priority for brands — especially as the holidays quickly approach. A recent Bazaarvoice study found that 89% of consumers prefer holiday shopping in-store; 72% said online and 22% prefer social media.
The balancing act between these two channels demands a targeted omnichannel strategy that blends digital and in-person experiences into a single, seamless customer journey. Getting the omnichannel strategy right can be tricky, but what’s important is that the shopping experience carries the customer experience from one channel to another — seamlessly.
Three key issues to keep in mind when building an omnichannel strategy that will engage customers online and drive them to the store include:
- Use AI to drive the product search: Regardless of the channel, customers should encounter the same brand experience online, in-store and on social media. No matter the channel a shopper prefers, use AI to help them find what they’re seeking right away with dynamic content ordering and boosting, along with automatic facet selection for better search capabilities. AI also can supercharge product discovery by leveraging customer data from a variety of sources, such as browsing history, trending products, geolocation and more, to deliver the ideal products and going from search to buy in less time.
- Foster good communications: Nothing frustrates shoppers more than searching online or on a retailer’s mobile app to see if a product is in stock, only to get to the store and find it’s not available. Good omnichannel strategies include quick resolution to stock inventory issues, meeting customer expectations (and often exceeding them) in the process. Rather than losing customers because of poor communication and slow inventory updates, brands can increase consistency across all touch points using unified search. By linking search across the website, the mobile app and even through Google Business, brands can deliver a more holistic experience, equipping customers with up-to-date product information that will keep them informed.
- Rely on behavioral data: The success of an ideal omnichannel strategy rides on customers’ behavioral data to deliver a smooth, consistent and highly personalized shopping journey. Behavioral data is important because it provides a more complete profile of a customer, based on their interactions with product landing pages and other elements of a brand’s online store. It reveals personal interests in the types of products they like — for example, specific colors in which they’re most interested. Their data follows them from channel to channel through a user profile stitched together by machine learning from data collection sources, resulting in a 360-degree view of a customer and making it easier to deliver to more relevant experiences — no matter where consumers shop.
There is little doubt that technology is driving change across the retail industry. And with generative AI advancing very quickly, the divide between digital commerce and the in-store shopping experience could grow even more invisible over time. Brands must be aligned with tech-savvy shoppers who have higher expectations about the experience, service and personalization they receive both in-store and online.
While the penchant for ecommerce will not diminish, brands striving to deliver on the ideal omnichannel strategy must pay special attention to the experience they deliver online — because ideally, that initial “touch” may be the driver that guides consumers from their couch to the store.
Sergio Iacobucci is the Senior Director of Commerce Marketing at Coveo, a leader in AI platforms that transform digital experiences with intelligent search, recommendations, 1:1 personalization, and merchandising. Over his 10-year career in commerce, he has advised some of the largest brands in the world. In his current role, Iacobucci spends his time keeping up to date on the latest trends and educating the market on how to boost KPIs.