During lockdowns, in-store retailers had to make a choice: make a hard pivot to being digital-first and opening up e-commerce options if they didn’t exist already, or closing their doors completely.
But now with lockdowns and restrictions wound back, society is returning to the experience of in-store shopping.
According to Mark Staton, Kmart’s head of store design, this in-person experience with a brand is not one consumers want to lose.
Staton, who is giving a presentation on this topic at the Online Retailer’s conference in July, tells SmartCompany that a “great brand experience is when all the little parts come together”.
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By that, he means that the omnichannel of both digital and physical now need to merge together, rather than existing as stand-alone offerings.
“Prior to lockdown we would hear so much about digital being the be all and end all. [The idea] that everything would go digital and online was a big thing,” he said.
“What we’ve gained and what we’ve realised is that it’s absolutely imperative for any retailer to have a really good online presence and to have digital embedded into [its experience].
“But it’s not like people gave up on stores at all,” Stanton said, reflecting on the people queuing at Kmart for hours when they first re-opened.
“What people missed was the experience of shopping, going in the store and walking around; seeing all of the products, and [being able to] touch and feel the products.
“So I think the omnichannel becomes really important, as retailers realise that it’s got to be all those parts working really hard together at that moment, as it’s important to that customer.”
This means the focus for retailers is how they can merge those two experiences into one, where neither operates exclusively of the other.
The next step for Kmart — and Staton suggests for other brands that are heavily ‘store-first’ — is to ensure that it’s a “digitally enabled business”.
“It’s a huge amount of investment, and a lot of hard working teams make it happen: to use all different kinds of data [and] digital empowerment to make it work within the store,” he said.
Staton uses the example of an app Kmart has been working on that can be used both independently within the store and away from a physical location, acting as a “navigational aid; an inspiration aid; and [cementing] the tone of the brand”.
“So your store is working a lot harder when you’re in store to have a great experience, but at the same time, your online channel and your apps need to work really hard and be intuitive to tie [the experience] together.”
It all starts with trust
While these moving parts are imperative, Staton says that to be a great brand in the first place, you have to “have a great relationship [with customers] which is built on trust”.
Take Bunnings, for example.
The household name has been repeatedly awarded titles such as ‘Australia’s most trusted brand’ and ‘top online retailer’, due to the relationship it has built with Aussies over its many decades in operation.
“As you know as we move into this new world, in some instances we can slightly be removed from a brand,” Staton said.
“Therefore having that brand trust and that value with the brand becomes really important.
“And bricks and mortar play an important part of that customer journey and the key brand experience, making it all work.”