Brick & Mortar to Click & Order: Retail Experience in 2021

By Emily Peck September 26, 2020

Brick & Mortar to Click & Order: Retail Experience in 2021 – the first instalment in BrainStation’s 2021 Digital Leadership Event Series –  took place on January 21 and featured leaders from Shopify, Chipotle, and General Mills.

You can watch the full panel discussion here:

2020 was a year that transformed retail, forcing brands to reconsider and re-invest in the way they market and sell their products among increased online competition.

Many top brands are now offering faster shipping and one-click checkout for seamless UX, as well as AR/VR experiences that allow customers to “touch-and-feel” their preferred products. There has also been an increased focus on omni-channel selling, most notably on social media, with a record of $23.3 billion in social commerce sales expected by the end of 2020. 

We spoke with digital marketing and product experts from Shopify, Chipotle, and General Mills to share insights on how they’ve adapted their in-person and online shopping experiences for customers, and the trends and channels have been most successful in preparing for the future.

Invest in Ideas Early

With the rapid pace of innovation over the course of the year, some brands had to play catch up to pivot their offerings to fit the digital landscape. Many of the brands that saw success during these uncertain times were ones that were already investing in digital channels and opportunities.

Jonathon Relkin, Director of Off-Premise at Chipotle, credited his team for being an early adopter of emerging tech, from third-party partnerships to Tik Tok. “We were laying the foundation prior to all of this happening,” he said. “We invested in a digital flow from what the customer sees to the back of house operations.”

Relkin also saw a swift change in where their revenue was coming from, “20 percent of revenue was coming from digital before. In the height of Corona it went as high as 70 percent. Now we’re averaging at 50 percent and we’re able to lean into it because of the work and investments made to have digital success.”

Daniella Bellaire, Head of Global Revenue Enablement and Shopify, noted that whenever changes appear, reducing barriers of adoption across the board is a good place to start.

“Retailers are more adaptable than people thought,” she said. Shopify partnered with the Government of Canada to create a Go Digital Canada initiative to help entrepreneurs start up their businesses during this time.

Make Data-Driven Decisions 

For a Consumer Packaging Goods (CPG) company like General Mills, change can be slow as annual cycles have been used for decades. The company, however, has been able to navigate these tricky times by optimizing existing strategies and attempting to automate as many processes as possible. 

“Our motto for our omnichannel is ‘to show up brilliantly’,” said Jay Picconatto, Director of Commerce at General Mills. “Our retailers wanted quality content across platforms. Most of our energy has been spent to show up brilliantly on all platforms.”

The company has also focused on director-to-consumer (D2C) shopping, allowing them to gather and analyze relevant data on their customers, brand, and operational partners. With this information, they’ve been able to review the effectiveness of their digital strategy and optimize approaches, processes, and campaigns.

“E-commerce a year ago was less than five percent of our business. Now, it’s more than double that. We’ve had to really have a heavy lift on some of those process tools and capabilities, even just ways of working to make sure that we show up brilliantly on our retailers platforms.”

Focus on Your Brand Story

Both Relkin and Bellaire agree that having consistent brand storytelling across your channels is important to a consumer to buy-into the ethos of your brand, to then buy your products. This means investing in your digital infrastructure and leveraging the resources available to you.

“We fundamentally believe we can change the world one burrito at a time,” said Relkin. “We look at our digital ecosystem and the channels that we show up on and really think about who’s there, why are they there, what are they interested in, and how do we engage in that conversation as a brand.”

“The reality is digital affords us an ability to do storytelling and probably a better way than than a traditional grocery store does,” said Picconatto. “It allows us to provide solutions in a way that we never could figure out in store. For example, we can even bundle things in different parts of the store online.”

Picconatto points to an example how his digital team jumped on a Barbie cake trend that allowed them to sell dolls alongside their Betty Crocker cake mixes. “We could never pull that off in-store,” he said.

Integrate Digital and Analog Experiences

With the adoption of digital platforms and e-commerce, delivering a great user experience is now practically mandatory for success in today’s market. While retailers are looking to create and innovate their digital experiences, our panelists also remind brands to invest in their physical spaces as well, and to rethink how they could be used. 

“User experience is really at the forefront of the digital experience and the online shopping experience. Making sure it’s easy to put things into a cart, and that it’s easy to check out,” said Bellaire. 

“Most of the growth online is still being fulfilled in store,” said Picconatto. “When you think about click and collect models for grocery performance, for example.”

“Stores are working with band-aids right now with having fulfillment warehouses bolted onto the buildings or just sitting in the front of the store. You need to think through the total product offering needed to make [the pick up experience] easier.”

“Convenience will prevail,” said Bellaire. “But if there’s a unique experience involved, I will show up and I will buy in-person because I want to support my community.”

Ultimately, humans love tangible experiences and value convenience. With the retail changes that will continue to unfold, the potential for a new symbiotic relationship between in-store activities and digital conveniences to augment each other to a holistic consumer experience leaves lots of room for entrepreneurs and businesses to find their unique place in this evolving landscape.

Interested in learning more digital transformations? Check out BrainStation’s Full Time Bootcamps and Part Time Certificate Courses.

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