Thanks to the pandemic there has been a significant paradigm shift in the retail sector. That shift, according to Ilias Simpson (@IliasSimpson), CEO at Radial, involved a “transformation of omnichannel buying behavior.” A survey conducted by Radial concluded, “Retailers’ omnichannel investments over the past two years have created a ‘hybrid’ shopper, as consumers blend e-commerce with in-store pickup options for ease and convenience.” And Simpson insists, “Retailers must be prepared for these new buying habits, and embrace new technologies and initiatives for future business success.” The staff at Marmon Retail Solutions agrees with Simpson. They note, “A new class of consumers has developed: hybrid shoppers, ones who engage in both in-store and ecommerce shopping. … Hybrid shoppers are some of the most valuable in retail because they spend more.” They add, “These consumers have discovered that online resources are proving to be the ideal complement to the in-store experience. And it’s those brick & mortar retailers who have also embraced the web-based tools to drive engagement that are winning over this new hybrid group.”
Omnichannel operations and the hybrid shopper
Dipesh Hinduja, a mobile solution architect director at Stratix, notes, “Retail has never been easy, but the past couple of years have brought incredible disruption to the sector.” Although current challenges facing retail will eventually work themselves out, Hinduja predicts, “One thing that won’t change is the way in which customer expectations have evolved. The line between digital and in-store experiences continues to blur, and shoppers expect to interact with sellers through multiple channels, including social media, websites, apps, phone, chat, and physical stores. … All of this means that retailers must create great experiences for both customers and employees to meet today’s challenges. … Developing an omnichannel strategy doesn’t mean attempting to mirror online and in-store. It’s about creating a consistent hybrid experience with product information, marketing tactics, and brand messaging across all channels.”
Beni Basel, founder and CEO of CiVALUE, agrees with Hinduja that retailers need to create great hybrid experiences for consumers. He’s just not sure all retailers will be up to the task. He writes, “The store of the future will be ‘phygital,’ or hybrid, a seamless blend of the physical and digital that leverages the best aspects of each to provide a fulfilling, comprehensive shopping experience that is hyper-personalized, responsive in real time and still human.” Prior to the pandemic, he notes, this “phygital” experience might have been enjoyed primarily by digital natives (i.e., Millennials and Gen Zers). He insists, however, the situation “radically changed during the pandemic as customers of all ages and digital readiness were forced to transition to online shopping.”
“Paradoxically,” Basel writes, “the key to connecting with customers who want to shop in a physical store can be maximizing the store’s digital means and integrating the physical and digital shopping experience. For this to happen, though, retailers need to adopt the right omnichannel customer experience strategies and invest in infrastructure that will enable them to future-proof the way they interact with their customers.” This is a trend retailers cannot afford to ignore. Retail journalist Tom Ryan explains, “A study from IBM in partnership with the National Retail Federation (NRF) shows hybrid shopping — mixing physical and digital channels in shopping journeys — is on the rise as shopping habits adopted out of necessity during the pandemic become routine.”
Improving the hybrid shopping experience
Nicoleta Niculescu (@NicoletaNicule2), a Content Marketing Specialist at Tokinomo, insists hybrid shopping is the future of retail. She explains, “[Hybrid retailing is the future] because shoppers got used to the convenience of online orders and curbside pick-up, but they also want to enjoy an amazing in-store experience where they can interact with others. By offering shoppers a hybrid shopping experience, they can choose what they want and they will leave satisfied.” She offers five suggestions retailers can follow to help foster a better hybrid shopping experience. They are:
1. Offer both physical and online shopping options. Without both options, you simply don’t have a hybrid shopping experience. Niculescu writes, “Customers want to know that they can choose how and when they want to shop. People want to order products online and come to pick them in-store. Also, they want to have the possibility to come to the store from time to time to check out the merchandise, talk to the staff for more information and engage with other shoppers.”
2. Provide convenient options. According to Niculescu, “Convenience is key in retail. Think about the moments in the shopping journey where there is still friction and eliminate it.”
3. Adopt the right technology. “Don’t forget,” Niculescu writes, “that technology was created to help people be more productive and achieve more in a short period of time. Nowadays, there are many tech options available for your store. Also, take advantage of data analytics.”
4. Entertain your shoppers while in-store shopping. Many retail consultants believe the future of physical retail relies on improving in-store customer experiences. Niculescu writes, “When customers do come to the store, they don’t do it merely because they want products. If they wanted that, they would have shopped online. They come to the store for the experience and the human interaction. Find ways to engage with customers directly at the point of purchase.”
5. Ask for feedback and implement it. Customers have a number of ways to express both delight and displeasure with their customer journey. Retailers ignore this feedback at their peril. Niculescu writes, “Making the shift to a hybrid model can be a bumpy ride. However, loyal customers will always be more than happy to share their feedback with you. Make it easy for them to share their thoughts with you and try to implement as much as possible.” Unhappy customers are also more than willing to share their thoughts with you. Their thoughts may even be more important for you to listen too than those of happy, loyal customers.
Mila D’Antonio (@miladantonio), a principal analyst in Omdia’s Customer Engagement Team, insists customers must remain the focus even in a hybrid shopping world. She explains, “Enterprises that aim to achieve omnichannel engagement must operationalize customer journeys by aligning those journeys to employee processes. To do so, they’ll want to consider customers’ requirements for additional channels, figure out how to implement digital and self-service expansions, and how to set up employee collaboration processes.” Simpson adds, “To succeed, retailers must adapt to ever-evolving consumer expectations. Embracing new omnichannel technology streamlines the shopping experience and sets retailers up for long-term success.”
 Ilias Simpson, “Three Benefits of an Omnichannel Retail Strategy,” SupplyChainBrain, 3 February 2021.
 Staff, “Omnichannel investments create ‘hybrid’ shoppers,” Supply Chain Quarterly, 14 May 2022.
 Staff, “How Retailers are Accommodating Hybrid Shoppers,” Marmon Retail Solutions, 2022.
 Dipesh Hinduja, “How Retailers Can Satisfy the Hybrid Shopper,” SupplyChainBrain, 17 November 2021.
 Beni Basel, “Are Retailers Ready To Offer Hybrid Shopping Experiences?” Forbes, 29 December 2021.
 Tom Ryan, “Has a new, hybrid shopper emerged out of the pandemic?” RetailWire, 16 February 2022.
 Nicoleta Niculescu, “Hybrid Retail: Find the Right Mix of Channels for Your Shoppers,” Tokinomo Blog, 5 August 2021.
 Mila D’Antonio, “3 Ways Enterprises Can Boost Omnichannel Engagement,” No Jitter, 3 January 2022.