The Importance of Location as Omnichannel Retail Becomes Prevalent

For retailers, location used to be extremely important. But now that anyone anyone can sell anything everywhere, the importance of location is changing.

It’s no longer about where retailers are located. It’s about where consumers are right now.

“People talk about omnichannel as being online or offline,” says Harley Finkelstein, the COO of Shopify. “Omnichannel, all that means—and I think it’s a silly buzzword—is the future of retail is retail everywhere. If you hang out on Facebook, that’s where you want to buy; if you love VR, that’s where you want to buy.”

For retailers, it’s one of the biggest changes since North America’s first department store opened in 1876.

“Basically, retail hasn’t really changed since then,” Finkelstein says. “There are bigger malls and there are boutiques and stuff but retail has been fairly stagnant in terms of the model.”

While that model is changing – he says that has less to do with the rise of online sales and more to do with the fact that retailers no longer have the ability to dictate to customers when and how they have to make purchases.

“What’s fundamentally changed in all this, whether it’s online, offline, VR, doesn’t matter, it’s that now the consumer is dictating how they want to purchase,” he says.

That’s a shift Shopify wants to take advantage of.

“We have become agnostic to what channel our retailers sell on, we want to allow them to sell anywhere,” Finkelstein says.

And as technology allows anyone to sell everywhere, that’s opening the door to a new sort of location-based selling. Instead of making customers come to them, retailers and marketers are now able to come to customers wherever they are.

“If I know that you’re at this hockey game, or in my store, it’s a very relevant data point that you can action on,” says John Coombs, he’s the co-founder and CEO of Rover.

Rover makes “a platform that gives sports teams or retailers the tools to deliver content and engage their fans, their users, their customers based on their location,” he says.

Rover is already working with some big names, like the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Toronto Raptors and the Toronto Maple Leafs.

He says location-based marketing is helping those teams reach customers in a more relevant way.

“Location can be the difference between being extremely annoying and invasive and being extremely relevant,” he says.

Rover makes an SDK that plugs directly into a brand’s app. With it, a sports team could send a picture to every fan at the arena, play a video when a fan approaches a statue of a legendary player or deliver a coupon code the moment that person walks into the merchandise store or, in some cases, give loyalty points to fans watching at a sports bar while the team is on the road.

“Our digital world and our physical world have been very siloed,” he says. “Location plays a very powerful role in bridging those two worlds.”

And that means the offline shopping experience will become a lot more like the online one.

“People love Amazon not just because of price point, they love Amazon because when they’re shopping they can see user reviews and rich content that informs their purchases,” he says.

Rover is currently developing a feature that would bring that sort of experience to physical retailers—giving information, like reviews, based on what isle the user is standing in.