“Web-lash” :a mashup of “backlash” and the web. WHAT? I’ll explain. It’s a concept introduced to me by Gary Ambrosino of Time Trade, in his article on WWD. Gary explains web-lash as “a backlash on online shopping and an increased focus on the store,” which, when I read it, hit a note for me. I’ve gotten into discussions with several people who opine that pretty soon, all shopping will be done digitally. There are many exhibits in modern culture that could seemingly support that: Amazon PrimeNow and their drones; Instacart, Target.com subscription services, and clothing subscription services like Le Tote. That’s where the future of retail is heading, but is that where the end is?
Retailers are currently going crazy about the huge increases (like even some 200% increases) in mobile and digital purchases during Holiday 2015. “Everyone’s buying online; let’s focus on online” seems to be the general sentiment. Why the web-lash and imminent refocus on brick-and-mortar? To summarize Gary’s points, it’s due to the lackluster shortcomings of online shopping that leave consumers returning to physical stores. “Physical interaction with products is impossible, pages can be difficult to navigate, there is no instant gratification, and there is a distinct lack of knowledgeable assistance available,” he declares of digital shopping. Soon enough, retailers who currently have their eyes on the shiny e-commerce thing will realize that it will never replace the ironic comfort and convenience of physically going into a store and browsing for your purchases. Millennials, for one, are increasingly demanding more personalized service and “artisanal” experiences, and the current state of most shopping websites don’t allow for much more than a generic and mediocre experience for all.
Arguably, there are some things that are better suited to thrive on e-commerce while some categories will always perform best in brick-and-mortar. For example, a simple item that can be judged by reading a few reviews and the specifications section (like a phone case, or USB cord) will continue to be predominantly transacted on the internet, but others (like cashmere scarfs and engagement rings) will continue to be sought after in traditional stores. The main gap between online and brick-and-mortar shopping (and thus the web-lash) is due to the experience. To finish off, here are some steps (some Gary’s, some mine) that retailers can take to ensure that their response to the web-lash is ready:
- Reduce waiting time and get closer to instant gratification by making sure employees are at the ready to checkout customers or answer questions. Gary suggests to allow customers to make their shopping appointments ahead of time so that they can have a seamless shopping experience.
- Train store associates to offer personalized service to customers.
- Educate associates on the products (“Is this lipstick cruelty-free?”) and the store’s policies so that questions like “Do you price match Amazon?” can be easily (and hopefully happily) answered without the customer having to sort through your Site Map on his/her cell phone.
- Celebrate the omnichannel experience of today’s shopping environment by providing free WiFi to your customers without them having to check a bunch of boxes.
- Lastly, invest in your in-store experience and ensure that your website is a seamless part of your service.