Retailers must learn that digital defines the retail landscape says Nigel Collett of RPA: Group

There can be no doubt that by 2016 digital will be vital to the fortunes of any bricks and mortar store. It’s now fundamental to the shopping experience itself and provides a gateway into almost every 3D store.

Recent research from Deloitte throws up some interesting insights into exactly where we are with digital right now. Digital interactions are behind 64% of all money spent in retail stores and a mind blowing 74% of customers interact with a brand online before ever entering the 3D store.  So, for most of us, digitally-influenced decisions preface any shopping behaviour on the high street.  

Add to this the whole social media dimension that now influences our behaviour and we find that 70% of us also seek out advice or recommendations from family, friends,  bloggers, vloggers, chat rooms and forums before we make a purchase.

Digital users are also likely to spend up to four times more than others as a result of their digital experiences. Basically, if it gets a thumbs up online it’ll be a hit on the high street.

To set all this in context, just 6.55% of retail sales in the US are now online while 93.5% are in physical stores. However, there is a paradox waiting in the wings here, as online seems to be getting a disproportionate share of the marketing budget. For me this is clear evidence that retailers are still not seeing the big picture regarding digital and high street retailing.

Most retailers for example, are still not accurately measuring the success of digital. They are still tallying the ‘revenue’ from digital sales alone, when they should be looking at the revenue plus the ‘influence’. What the results clearly show is that digital has a clear effect on the whole purchasing process whether people buy digitally in the end or not. 

Interestingly, Deloitte’s research also shows that different categories reap different benefits from digital. In the food and beverage category for example, just over 30% of purchases are driven digitally, but in electronics that rises to over 60%. This would clearly mean that different strategies are required in-store in those sectors.

To sum up, no store should be planning to do anything other than put digital at the heart of its shopper experience.

I have written a great deal in the past about “show rooming” (remember that? ), personalisation and omni channel. Now figures show that 35% of shoppers are using digital in-store (a figure that would have terrified retailers a few years ago when mobile was the ‘bad guy’).  And they are not principally using their phones to price check anymore. Instead they are using them for inspiration, idea generation, to connect with reviews and even for making purchases online to pick up later in the store.

This should be seen as good news by retailers, as it allows them to create a truly engaging and memorable in-store digital experience that drives word of mouth, loyalty and most importantly sales. But before you can harness the power of digital you have to think differently about it, assess it properly, understand it and  decide what it means for you as a brand in your category.

As Jeff Simpson of Deloitte says, “Instead of measuring moments that matter during the shopping journey, retailers continue to focus on measuring the buy button – the point at which they actually have the least influence.” That clearly has to stop. Retailers need to recognise that there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution, apart from the fact that digital isn’t just part of the retail landscape anymore, it defines the retail landscape.

Nigel Collett is CEO of RPA:Group