It’s no secret that physical retail has been feeling the pressure from its online counterparts for some time now, with COVID-19 only intensifying this issue further. The retail landscape has changed dramatically throughout the last few months, with retailers taking one of the hardest hits due to necessary closures.
E-commerce on the other hand, has risen to the COVID-19 challenge with unrivalled adaptability; recent research suggests that as lockdown measures were imposed across the UK, weekly online retail transactions in both the home and leisure industry rose substantially, up 200% compared to the same period in the previous year, a growth trend which continued throughout the remainder of March, the entirety of April and the majority of May.
The demand for goods in the retail sector saw huge increases throughout this time. For an industry that was already worth around £394bn a year, demand for products including home furnishings, outdoors and gardening and renovation supplies increased two-fold, with online retailers reaping the benefits.
The rise in popularity can be attributed to one simply factor, with more people at home than any other time in the UK’s history, many looked to achieve projects that they had perhaps previously put off. A recent survey by Barclays Mortgages highlighted this very fact, with over half of Brits surveyed using this extra time at home to tackle jobs such as painting and decorating.
And though this demand was ultimately short lived, online and high street retailers alike have throughout this time witnessed the importance of adaptability in order to survive, and though a new sense of normal may be on the horizon, the lessons learned could ultimately change the face of retail forever. Lockdown has shown that consumers appetite for accessing goods and services through online platforms is huge, and with even the least technologically savvy consumers adapting to be able to access services online, now is the time to drive this concept forwards.
Many e-commerce businesses are consistently looking to the future to gage how they can improve not only their offering and user experience, but also customer satisfaction. Digital pioneers and the uncontested leader of e-commerce, Amazon, have achieved success due to their ability to think of new and innovative ways to evolve over time, something which has proved even more prevalent during the COVID-19 pandemic. By studying competitors’ offerings, retailers are able to identify any gaps that could be filled in and by providing a product or service that others haven’t yet thought of, retailers are much more likely to be at the forefront of their sector.
Whilst innovation is clearly important in the progression of e-commerce, listening to customer feedback is also key. Taking note of what customers are saying across both social media and customer service centres opens up the opportunity to learn and improve both processes and product or service offerings.
Though it could be easy to suggest that the changes to consumer behaviour, caused at least in part by the COVID-19 pandemic, means that from henceforward the e-commerce will always prevail, that’s simply not the case. Research has shown that many consumers simply could not wait to get back into bricks and mortar retailer stores, arguing that the emotions and engagement associated with a physical store simply cannot be replicated in the world of e-commerce. In order to ensure that the online shopping experience continues to evolve, more and more digital retailers are looking to progressive technology not only to set their businesses apart from the crowd, but also to bring in that all important engagement aspect to digital purchasing.
Recent advancements have supported the emergence of digital imaging technology, a process which sees digitally encoded representations of the visual characteristics of an object being showcased to consumers. This type of technology has the capability to showcase digital products to consumers in a new way, giving a new lease of life to the customer journey and supporting the idea that consumer experience should evolve as technology does. By utilising digital imaging technology, retailers should in theory be able to show customers how products will look in “real life” without the need for a physical store.
Home furnishings retailer Terrys Fabrics have identified this as a potential avenue for their customers, understanding just how useful this technology would be within the online interiors retail space. The brand is working with developers to launch an app which utilises innovative technology to showcase over 2,000 pattern and colour variations of made to measure blinds within the consumer’s home. Though currently going through a design and testing phase, the app will look to use innovative image technology to display how a range of products will look within a consumer’s current home interiors.
The brand trusts that this process will not only eliminates the problems associated with attempting to visualise how prospective interiors will look within the home, but will allow customers to virtually test as many colours and styles of blinds as they desire, saving both time and potential expense on samples.
The brand believes that implementing this technology offering will provide an additional service for the customer which isn’t readily available across the market. Terrys Fabrics also believe that the visualisation process will be much more effective than those currently available through traditional shopping experiences, and therefore should support an increase in customer satisfaction.
Paul McGuiness, director and owner of Terrys Fabrics says “We believe that the future of home furnishing online depends on creating a unique buying experience, and our goal is to bring ease to the experience and remove any uncertainty from purchasing blinds online. Our app allows users to virtually try blinds in their own home at any time of day, without need for any advisor or sales representative. We’re excited to bring this development to the market and make the first steps in changing the online shopping experience for blinds and curtains.”
With the retail sector under more strain than ever before with COVID-19, retailers that are able to bridge the gap between bricks and mortar and e-commerce stores are sure to have the upper hand. By combining inspiration and real life, retailers will be providing customers with an in-shop experience within the comfort of their own homes, something which is currently unique to the digital world. With such rapid progressions in the world of virtual and augmented reality technology, is the future of shopping fully digital?