To say that e-commerce has transformed the way people shop is an understatement. However, no matter how transformative digital technologies have become, it seems unlikely e-commerce will ever fully satiate the basic human need for an in-person shopping spree.

But as more retailers are discovering, online and offline shopping needn’t be in competition with each other. Rather, they should work in collaboration to provide the best shopping experience for consumers.

It is natural that we like to see, touch and experience the things we buy before we buy them. Similarly, the internet has provided a wealth of research tools to consumers to empower them to make smarter buying decisions. As e-commerce transitions into an everyday reality, we are seeing these two worlds—physical and digital—come together in some interesting ways.

Online research often precedes an in-store purchase

The most recent edition of Canada’s Internet Factbook found that 45 per cent of Canadians visit a store’s website before making a purchase in a bricks and mortar store. This phenomenon is called webrooming, where the vast amount of online data, reviews, competitive pricing and videos are used by consumers to inform their in-store buying decisions. 

This underscores the importance of providing consumers with as much information as possible on your website, to help potential customers make a buying decision. However, it also means understanding the vast ecosystem of information out there that your customers will be navigating before making a purchase—information you won’t necessarily control. This means it is critical to understand who the online influencers are in your industry and what they are saying, and even try to develop relationships with them to better understand the needs of your customers.

In-store purchases can affect your online reviews

This web of data points underscores the importance of ensuring a great customer experience from end-to-end to encourage great reviews and positive word-of-mouth.

Conversely, we see a growing trend of consumers who visit a physical retail location to view a product, and then make a final purchase online. This is called showrooming, and according to Canada’s Internet Factbook, 36 per cent of Canadians like to browse in-store before purchasing online.

However, while these online purchases might be from the same retailer, often they are not. This underscores the importance of having a clear connection between your physical and digital presence, so consumers know they can shop via any method they want. It also highlights how critical it is to understand the buying process your customers prefer to take.

Going mobile

Finally, one of the most significant changes in e-commerce is occurring on mobile devices. Mobile devices are a unique blend of physical and digital as they come with us virtually everywhere we go, including in-store.

The rise of mobile devices presents special challenges for retailers as every customer is now equipped with the knowledge of the entire internet in their pocket as they browse the aisles. 

Retailers are beginning to understand these trends, and some, such as Apple and Canadian retailer Frank & Oak, even combine their mobile and retail experiences into a single app.

Pay attention to payment methods

Canadians are becoming increasingly comfortable making purchases on their mobile devices. Canada’s Internet Factbook found that 40 per cent of Canadians now use their mobile devices to make an online purchase. 

Payment services such as Apple Pay and Google Pay are making both online and offline transactions more seamless than ever. Canada’s Internet Factbook indicates that 37 per cent of Canadians are at least somewhat comfortable using digital wallet services.

Marrying the best of both worlds

The key for retailers is to create a memorable, seamless physical-digital experience that encourages brand loyalty and positive word-of-mouth.

The lines between physical and digital retail experiences are blurring, and retailers would be wise to consider them as two halves of the same equation. Rather than have separate experiences, promotions, processes and policies for e-commerce vs. in-store, smart businesses are finding ways to combine the two into a complete retail experience.

Whether it is having a hassle-free shipping, pick-up and return policy that is agnostic of where the transaction originated, or cross-promoting both retail and e-commerce experiences with similar pricing and promotions, e-commerce can no longer be an island unto itself. The question is no longer if e-commerce will overtake bricks and mortar experiences, but rather how the two can work together to create the best experience possible.