Getting Physical: Three Tips For Bridging Online And Offline Experiences In The New Year

0aaaCarl Tsukuhara Optimizely

Recently Wayfair and Casper joined the likes of fellow e-Commerce brands Amazon, Everlane, Glossier and many others that are all experimenting with, or opening permanent, brick-and-mortar stores. However, with many traditional retail stores closing shop in the last year, it’s even more imperative to integrate offline and online channels to provide a consistent experience across all touch points.

These digitally-born businesses are in a battle with Amazon to retain customers by offering a great in-store experience at a reasonable cost, all while avoiding the mishaps Build-a-Bear and others recently encountered. In fact, while 87% of consumers say they expect an omnichannel experience, only 7% of retailers actually provide the ability to shop seamlessly across all channels.

That means opening physical stores requires delivering a hyper-personalized and streamlined experience that is massively digital-friendly. This is fundamental to the future of this omnichannel company’s business model. Here are three ways retailers can marry their online and offline customer experiences to accelerate growth in 2019.


Create A Personalized Experience

Customers have come to expect personalized experiences online, and brands need to find ways to replicate the tailored experience in store. Since 85% of customers say they like to shop in stores because they want to “touch and feel” items before they buy them, it’s imperative for brands to provide highly relevant experiences that are “digital enabled” as a way to enhance relationships with customers and boost sales.

Nordstrom has done this through its “reserve online and try in store” service. By giving customers the option to reserve items online before heading to the store — where they are met with a personalized dressing room with their name and selected items — the retailer is combining the best of personalization across online and physical experiences.

For 110-year-old legacy brand Neiman Marcus, personalization is the new loyalty. They’ve incorporated data and machine learning across all their platforms to learn more about what customers prefer, which includes embedding new capabilities on the devices its sales associates use in stores. For example, they launched the Snap Find Shop, a visual search feature in its app that lets customers take a photo of any clothing item and find a similar style in the store’s product line using AI. The company has continued to maintain its stellar brand reputation by using the data it collects online and off to provide superior customer service and a distinctive, personalized shopping experience.

Thanks to the endless amount of data businesses can collect online, retailers are able to create targeted experiences for their customers and build relationships with them based on their interests. This is a key point where experimenting with this holistic experience comes into play. Retailers can now experiment with their online and mobile experience with the direct objective of on-premise, physical conversion. In this case, the retailer owns the entire process and supply chain and can directly measure the impact of their digital experience on both the e-Commerce and physical world.

Think Outside How Digital Experiments And Success Can Enrich On-Premise Experience

Brands can now test all kinds of variations in the digital world that can be transferred to the physical storefront with much less supply chain and physical merchandising risk. By creating highly personalized digital experiments around things such as pricing, recommendations, bundling or affinity, teams can know how to execute with high levels of certainty in the physical world.

For example, any retailer can experiment with offers against specific customer “buckets” or try checkout-level offers to see what improves average order value for different audiences. Once the suggested variation is proven to work, then a physical version of such offers, sales or displays can be replicated in physical locations where similar customer demographics apply. By getting this right ahead of larger scale physical deployment, it reduces the need for storing inventory, cuts down on operating costs and provides customers with a tangible way to know the proper in-store experience before committing to deployment at scale.

As consumer expectations and demands continue to rise at an accelerated pace, retailers must stay unique, leverage their digital data and experiments and think outside a purely digital or physical (brick-and-mortar) box in order to stay ahead. You may have a great idea for a pop-up shop or an in-person campaign, but how do you know if anyone will actually show up? Who will be interested? By testing online first, brands can learn about the customer journey, consumer behaviors and individual preferences, and use that to foster loyalty in the physical space.

One brand demonstrating the power of experimentation before national success with brick-and-mortar is Warby Parker. While the company originally got its start selling eyeglasses online in 2010, it plans to have 100 physical stores open in the next year. Before creating any permanent stores, the company started with showrooms and pop-ups. In fact, they even had a school bus early on that traveled to different cities where employees sold their glasses on wheels. By learning about their customers’ wants and needs before setting up shop, they’ve been able to take the convenience of online shopping and combine it with the in-person experience found in actual stores.

Other examples include online dating app Bumble, which just launched “The Hive” in New York, a brick-and-mortar hangout space, and Refinery29, which now hosts pop-ups as a way to bring readers closer to their brand through visual, immersive experiences.


Brick-and-mortar isn’t dead, the model is just changing. While many brick-and-mortar stores are going out of a business in the digital age, this is largely due to lack of modernization. Bridging the online and offline experience will be necessary in order for retailers to succeed, and brands that successfully adapt their approach will keep their customers coming back for more.

Carl Tsukahara, a 25-year veteran of Silicon Valley, is Chief Marketing Officer at Optimizely, a leader in digital experience optimization with customers including Gap, Revolve, Trunk Club and Blu Dot. Prior to Optimizely, Tsukahara was CMO at Birst, which delivered enterprise business analytics to major global corporations. He also has held executive management roles at Evolv, Monitise and Vitria Technology.


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