The endless aisle: How to bring the best of online to the in-store experience
Why should brick-and-mortar stores stay within their physical bounds? For The Drum’s retail deep dive, Janine Flaccavento explores how the ‘endless aisle’ paradigm manifests digital expansiveness IRL.
Is the 'endless aisle' paradigm the savior of brick-and-mortar retail? / Nathália Rosa via Unsplash
Think back to your last few in-store shopping experiences. How many times did you look up items on your phone?
For many shoppers, phones have become an integral part of the in-person buying experience. Whether they’re looking for more product details, alternate color options, or price comparisons, digital engagement happens throughout today’s purchasing journeys.
An in-store shopper is interested in buying from your brand (they showed up, after all), but they can quickly be swayed by online competitors who promise to deliver what they’re looking for. To keep that shopper, your brand needs to show up in those on-phone, in-store moments to meet their needs and push them down the path to purchase.
That’s where the endless aisle comes in: using technology to combine the experience of in-store with the convenience and breadth of online.
The power of an endless aisle
The endless aisle is a necessity if you want to adapt to shifts in customer behavior. Many retailers spent the last few years figuring out how to blend in-store and digital in an online environment – but the reality is that more than 80% of retail sales still happen in-store.
What’s different now is that shoppers expect to have not just the tactile experience of brick-and-mortar, but also the tools and features they’d have shopping from home, including assortment and in-depth product details. They want a well-rounded, connected shopping experience, no matter where they are.
Providing such an experience can mitigate sales loss: 46% of consumers who switched brands in 2022 did so due to product availability. If a shopper can’t find the size or color they’re looking for in-store, a quick search from their phone can quickly divert them to another retailer. But you can prevent that search from happening by having a quick-scan code on display that takes the shopper right to your site to see the full inventory assortment.
This can boost cross-sell opportunities, too. Companies that cross-sell say that it drives up to 30% of their revenue. Imagine offering a QR code on a shirt tag that shows the shopper ideas for an entire outfit or providing a seasonal cookie recipe for someone buying sugar. Endless aisle technology allows you to cross-sell in ways that aren’t possible through physical in-store inventory alone.
The upshot is a boost to brand loyalty. Shoppers have become accustomed to evolved shopping experiences with their favorite brands online. This includes offer codes, exclusive products, reviews and videos, and online shopping events. This builds loyalty through experiences, not just savings.
Connecting these ideas to your in-store experience is key to making in-store shopping feel special and more personalized. And personalization pays off: people are 40% more likely to spend more than planned when they identify the shopping experience as highly personalized.
The endless aisle in action
A strong endless aisle strategy centers around what your shoppers may need during an in-store moment. That will vary from brand to brand and across product categories – but commonly used tactics include:
Interactive kiosks, especially for larger or higher-ticket items that are hard to fully evaluate at the point of purchase. For example, a seller of musical instruments might not have all their drum kits set up in their store. A kiosk could show the customer a demo video, close-ups of each component, and recommendations for similar options.
QR codes can accompany a product for the shopper to learn more details, watch tutorials, offer inspiration, or easily access other colors and sizes.
Tablets or other portable devices can empower store associates with information to create better in-store experiences, including personalized recommendations once the shopper has identified themselves with their loyalty membership.
Setting up the endless aisle
To start making the endless aisle a reality for your brand, start by aligning internal teams to match shopper behaviors. Many brands operate their in-store and online programs in silos. Integrated planning and budgeting can help the entire team march toward the same goals in service of the customer.
In-store teams, likewise, need training on relevant technology. Store associates are just as critical to a seamless journey as the tech empowering them. Make sure they’re trained to use endless aisle capabilities to their full potential.
Then you can start getting smart with integrations. Shoppers increasingly use social media for shopping inspiration and conversion, so integrate social commerce strategies into stores. Make it part of the in-store journey, where relevant, to offer another outlet for shoppers to get more information (like reviews or demonstrations) on your products.
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Finally, establish advanced attribution reporting. To invest appropriately in different channels, you must understand the role that each in-store and online touchpoint plays in the shopper journey. Advanced attribution reporting will showcase that data and help you allocate budgets accordingly.
The shopper journey is getting increasingly complex, but with the right tools and approach you can meet customers with what they need. The possibilities for endless aisles will continue to grow as generative AI, smart shopping carts, and other technologies emerge. By establishing a foundation now, you’ll position yourself to continue delighting your shoppers – whether they’re in-store, online, or both at once.
Get ready for the retail world of the future with more smart thinking and detailed analysis over at our dedicated deep dive hub.
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Merkle is a leading data-driven customer experience management (CXM) company that specializes in the delivery of unique, personalized customer experiences across platforms and devices. For more than 30 years, Fortune 1000 companies and leading nonprofit organizations have partnered with Merkle to maximize the value of their customer portfolios.
The company’s heritage in data, technology, and analytics forms the foundation for its unmatched skills in understanding consumer insights that drive hyper-personalized marketing strategies. Its combined strengths in performance media, customer experience, customer relationship management, loyalty, and enterprise marketing technology drive improved marketing results and competitive advantage.
With 13,000 employees, Merkle is headquartered in Columbia, Maryland, with 50+ additional offices throughout the Americas, EMEA, and APAC. Merkle is a dentsu company. For more information, contact Merkle at 1-877-9-Merkle or visit www.merkleinc.com.