Brick-and-mortar shopping has its advantages — it’s difficult to replicate the in-person experience and actually touch a product before purchase. The digital shopping experience has its advantages — the ease of shopping from your couch is unmatched.
Now, there’s hybrid commerce, which brings the best of both experiences together in one holistic package.
Hybrid commerce refers to the integration of online and offline retail channels, creating a seamless shopping experience. It combines the convenience of online shopping and the personalized experience of physical stores.
Customers can browse products online, make purchases from the comfort of their homes, and also have the option to pick up their items at a physical store.
Hybrid commerce is still fairly early in adoption as 27% of shoppers list it as their preferred method.
However, that same study found 36% of Gen Z shoppers listed it as their primary choice, showing that it’s a growing trend with younger buyers.
For ecommerce platforms and online stores, hybrid commerce offers new opportunities to reach new audiences.
Perks of hybrid commerce
Hybrid commerce (or hybrid ecommerce) can benefit both buyer and seller. This ecommerce solution approach often supplies a superior customer experience and better opportunities to develop ongoing relationships for the retailer.
Enhanced omnichannel engagement.
Hybrid commerce provides customers with a consistent experience across all channels. Customers are more likely to engage with a brand that offers a seamless and consistent experience.
For instance, a customer can browse products on a retailer's website, make an online purchase and pick up the product at a nearby store — all while experiencing a consistent process.
Improved Customer Experience.
Hybrid commerce offers a seamless shopping experience for customers. Customers get the flexibility to choose how they want to shop. This can result in a better customer experience, as it makes shopping more convenient and less time-consuming.
Wider market reach.
By investing in both approaches, you’re opening up yourself to sales through both methods. This doesn’t restrict your reach and encourages both internet and window shoppers to buy your products.
Faster time to market.
Hybrid commerce allows businesses to be agile and flexible in their operations. The integration of digital channels enables businesses to adjust their online and offline presence, depending on market conditions and customer needs.
For example, if there's a significant increase in online sales, a business can quickly scale up its ecommerce operations to meet demand. Alternatively, if there's a shift in customer preferences towards in-store shopping, businesses can re-allocate resources to their physical stores.
Challenges with hybrid commerce
Of course, as is true with any approach, hybrid commerce comes with its own issues. The advantages are significant, but a hybrid approach is complex and requires careful planning.
Hybrid commerce is hard and requires multiple systems working well with each other at all times. Integrating all of these digital commerce systems isn’t always easy and can bubble up new issues that didn’t exist before.
Security and fraud prevention.
Online stores and payment gateways require secure systems to protect sensitive data like customer information and financial data.
It’s important to have strong security protocols in place to safeguard against threats and require multi-layered security measures, regularly updated firewalls, encryption, and constant monitoring of systems.
Vendor lock-in risks.
Organizations may face difficulties moving to different providers because of the proprietary nature of software solutions. This can be problematic when vendors change or cease operations, leading to a potential loss of data, which can disrupt business continuity.
To avoid this, businesses must ensure they choose vendors that employ open standards and data portability.
Navigating regulatory compliance.
To keep pace with changing regulations, businesses must have experts with a thorough understanding of regulatory requirements related to hybrid commerce.
This resource should oversee the update of policies to mitigate regulatory risks and ensure that the business stays compliant.
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Establishing a hybrid footprint for online retailers
Being digital-only means that you’re not reaching all audiences. Moving from online to brick-and-mortar isn’t easy, but the advantages of this commerce strategy can be significant.
Research target demographics and local markets.
Have a full understanding of your customers and where they live and shop. Thorough research and identification of areas where you have the best chances of success is vital.
Pilot pop-up shops in high-traffic areas.
Don’t go all-in on hybrid commerce without running a test case. Consider trial runs in strategic markets to understand how physical commerce works before making a massive investment.
Establish partnerships with physical retailers.
Just as some ecommerce businesses work with Amazon, consider working with established retailers before building your own physical presence. This is a good way of determining the appetite for your products in physical locations.
Working into an existing ecosystem (think Walmart) is easier than trying to build your own.
Craft a brick-and-mortar store.
If you’re confident in your own success and have the business case, you should move forward with plans for a physical presence. Constantly monitor key metrics to fully grasp how your new business model is faring.
Strategies for physical shops to embrace hybrid
Brick-and-mortar shops looking to enter the digital space should follow these strategies when actually building out an internet presence.
Launch a user-friendly ecommerce website.
Your digital storefront should be easy to use and make the buyer process simple. Include advanced functionality like video and make sure your product catalog is SEO friendly.
Run omnichannel marketing campaigns.
With an omnichannel commerce approach, customers can start their shopping on one platform and continue from another effortlessly. Implementing this strategy enables businesses to leverage customer data from various sources and re-engage shoppers who abandon their carts.
Encourage online reviews and customer feedback.
Including customer reviews on your website provides the social proof that can be the difference in making a sale or not. Customers can also be brand ambassadors if they have a good experience with your company.
Provide exclusive online discounts and offers.
To drive customers to your new online store, offer them digital-only coupons or deals that both encourage buying, but also raises awareness around your new sales channel.
Future of hybrid commerce
The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the rise of hybrid commerce. The advantages of the approach are difficult to ignore, and advances in technology make the future even more exciting.
Role of virtual reality.
A key benefit of VR or AR (augmented reality) in hybrid commerce is that it offers consumers a unique and immersive experience that can merge the physical and virtual worlds.
With VR, customers can experience products virtually, enabling them to visualize and interact with them in a way that is not possible with traditional methods.
For example, they can see how furniture fits in their home or try on clothes without stepping into a fitting room.
Impact of AI and ML.
Artificial intelligence and machine learning can help hybrid commerce models be more efficient and offer better customer experiences. Personalized experiences, real-time inventory management and supply chain optimization, generative AI, dynamic pricing, and better fraud protection will all be powered by AI and ML.
Sustainability in hybrid commerce.
Hybrid commerce has the potential to reduce a company’s carbon footprint by improving energy efficiency. For example, sustainable business operations can pool inventory to minimize transportation and use of space.
And by embracing eco-friendly delivery and packaging options, hybrid commerce can also reduce packaging waste and lower transportation emissions.
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The final word
Hybrid commerce serves customers both online and offline, giving them a convenient and consistent shopping experience. The physical store provides customers with a tangible space to try out the products before purchase, as well as an opportunity for them to connect with the brand.
At the same time, the online store allows customers to shop from anywhere at any time and offers a wider array of products without the space limitations of physical stores.
This hybrid model is the best of both worlds and is becoming increasingly popular for retailers looking to maximize ecommerce sales.