Successful retailers are blurring the lines between the online and offline worlds to create the new retail. In this article, true’s Junior Strategist Junjie Wei examines the lessons UK brands can learn from China’s maturing digital economy.
New Retail is an integrated retail delivery model that brings offline, online, logistics and data together to improve the customer experience. The pandemic has amplified the role of new retailers in delivering optimal experiences and China is taking the leadwhile many British brands have only just started to prioritize digitization.
Here I look at why it would be of great benefit for UK brands to understand this and the gap in approach with their counterparts in China.
What is new retail?
The future of commerce will not be about the platform, it will be about the experience. This is the idea behind the new retail strategy, which integrates the offline and online touchpoints along the customer journey to provide a seamless cross-channel retail experience.
The ability to dissolve boundaries between the online and offline world will be a key success factor in the post-Covid era. As a result of the pandemic, new consumer trends have emerged; A large proportion of people started using online platforms for the first time and will continue to do so.
The immediacy, ease and speed offered by digital commerce have made it nearly ubiquitous 63% of shopping trips now begin online. At the same time, 46% of consumers still prefer to shop in person and believe the online shopping experience can never be matched. The new approach to retail is a way for marketers to meet these conflicting demands and help brands thrive in both the online and offline worlds.
New retail store in the UK
Due to lockdown restrictions, many brands in the UK have invested in new ways to market their products online. Ted Baker hosted live video shopping events on Bambuser where users can like, post comments and ask questions about products and services in real time. Elsewhere, augmented reality (AR) has been introduced to replicate offline experiences (like browsing the store) using online technology. IKEAFor example, has launched an AR tool that allows consumers to see how the items they select fit into the real environment.
In addition to integrating offline shopping elements into online platforms, brands are beginning to incorporate the immediacy and convenience of online shopping into the shopping experience. Amazon fresh, the one-stop grocery store that opened in west London in 2021, is a good example of this transition. Shoppers no longer have to queue to check out, instead being automatically charged through the app as in-store sensors and cameras track items customers pick up and place them into virtual shopping carts.
These measures focus on developing a borderless channel between two areas. Brands either digitize physical elements or embody digital ones. However, the goal of new retail is to create a seamless experience where offline and online coexist and evolve together along the journey. China is taking the lead here.
New retail in China
Brands in China are more experienced in merging physical and digital elements throughout the consumer journey. This advanced position in new retail is due to the country’s more mature digital landscape and more sophisticated consumer needs. Before the pandemic, China already had one deep digital consumer base, with global leadership in key digital metrics, including the number of internet users, mobile payment penetration and retail e-commerce spending. These digital consumers are Increasingly combine retail shopping experiences with their online purchasing decisions.
This trend is forcing brands to integrate the best of both worlds more effectively. For example, Burberry opened its social retail store in Shenzhen, where consumers can interact with the brand and immerse themselves in the products in person and on smartphones. Through a lightweight program within WeChat, consumers explore the store through features such as store tours and learn more about products. Each interaction rewards consumers with social currency that can be redeemed for exclusive cafe menu items and outfits for their animal characters received in the program. The brand is building a circular ecosystem where online and offline complement each other.
After Burberry’s move, L’Oréal opened its concept store in Shanghai. Consumers can take a virtual bike tour of Paris and earn discount points along the way. They can also examine product recommendations generated from their skin analysis report. These behaviors are linked to consumers’ WeChat accounts via the L’Oréal Applet. The recommended products will be added to the shopping cart linked to their account. In this way, even after they leave the store, the brand continues to provide personalized content based on their in-store interactions.
What does the future hold for new retail?
These two Chinese examples show that the future of new retail is developing virtuous cycles where online and offline complement each other. The pandemic has accelerated Britain’s digital progress and calls for new retail outlets have emerged – both of which existed in China before the pandemic. Many UK brands have started to invest in adding physical elements to online and digital store benefits. Compared to the progress in China, these measures are just the basis of the new retail revolution. To stand out in the new era, British brands need to move to the next phase.
This integrated process is particularly useful in the Cookieless future, which require copious amounts of primary consumer data. Digitization in stores enables data collection around every interaction and more online engagement with consumers, which in turn generates more data. Brands will be able to identify actual consumer needs from their own data pools without tracking cookies.
However, the precursor to this evolution is to put the consumer experience at the heart of strategy development and stop thinking in terms of online vs. offline categories. Only with this mindset is it possible to deliver the experiences consumers want in an integrated way.