“Digical” is one of four disruptive business strategies being pioneered by modern retailers. We look at what it means and how it works in practice.

Remember when e-commerce was going to disrupt bricks and mortar – leaving Britain’s high streets as tumbleweed-strewn wastelands, while everyone stayed at home shopping on their computers?

As with most technology predictions, those fears have proven to be unfounded, with the reality turning out to be a lot more complicated than anyone foresaw.

While the high street has indeed taken a battering in recent years, it’s more due to the flat economy than a surge in online shopping.  And although e-commerce has certainly continued to grow, the fact remains that physical stores are still responsible for over 90% of retail sales, according to eMarketer.

E-commerce down, bricks and mortar up?

And there are even signs that e-commerce growth is slowing down. In the first quarter of 2015, the rate of UK e-commerce growth dropped to single figures for the first time, with all of the growth powered by shopping on smartphones and tablets, rather than desktop PCs.

At the same time, 2014 saw a record number of independent bricks and mortar stores opening in the UK, as shoppers turn away from large, undifferentiated chains and towards local, independent shops, cafés and bars. In all, 8,662 independent retailers opened their doors in 2014, contributing to something of a retail renaissance on Britain’s streets.

Retailers are combining the best of both worlds with “digical”

So does this mean that bricks and mortar is winning out at the expense of e-commerce? Not in our experience. Here at Salesforce, the retailers we work with are increasingly combining the best elements of both worlds by adopting a strategy known as “digical”.

A digical strategy combines digital and physical operations to provide unique and memorable experiences to shoppers hungry for more meaningful relationships with the products they buy and the brands they buy from.

The focus on customer experience is uppermost, because retailers and analysts agree that experience is now the key to engaging and retaining customers, both online and offline.

And as the rise of mobile devices blurs the distinction between “in-store” and “at-home” shopping, strategies that blend digital platforms with in-store experiences are set to disrupt the traditional view that “bricks and mortar” and “e-commerce” are two entirely separate modes of shopping.

Digical strategies vary from retailer to retailer, but some of the ones we see most often include:

Customer-centric supply chains: With e-commerce sites offering customers the ability to have their online orders delivered to a store for picking up, or in-store staff being able to order an out-of-stock product online, or from another store, and have it sent to the customer’s home.

Stores as “inspiration sites”: With experts on hand to demo products and answer questions, new products to try out, relaxed environments with seating and refreshments, and new technologies like “smart mirrors”, which enable shoppers to virtually try on clothes of different sizes and colours, and upload images to social media sites to solicit their friends’ opinions.

Community-building: With retailers engaging with shoppers on social media, creating communities of reviewers on their websites, and hosting exclusive in-store events like fashion shows, tasting evenings, book signings, live performances and cookery demonstrations.

Mobile point of sale: With stores doing away with the need to queue at a fixed pay point, and instead deploying sales associates throughout the store, armed with tablet computers, to answer shoppers’ questions, check inventory levels, make sales, and take orders.

Personalised shopping: Collecting data about customers’ preferences has long enabled retailers to propose relevant products and personalised offers to online shoppers. But that capability is now set to extend to the in-store environment, as new beacon technologies allow stores to identify individual shoppers by their smartphones, and alert them to relevant in-store items and offers.

“The promise of beacons for retailers is you can finally tie an online persona to an offline persona. They are no longer satisfied knowing we’ve got this much traffic on our website and this much value in sales. They want to know: this person was on my website and then they went to my store.”

- Vincent DiBartolo, VP Technology at Big Spaceship, quoted in the Financial Times, 27 May 2015

A disruptive digical strategy in action at The Chapar

One Salesforce customer pioneering a digical strategy is London-based The Chapar, which offers a web and phone-based “personal stylist” service to men shopping for clothes and accessories.

“Men don’t like to shop. They don’t like shopping on the high street, and they don’t like shopping online. Joe Middleton, a veteran of the clothing industry, knew there must be ‘a third way’ and The Chapar is it. Personalised outfits delivered to your door.”

The Chapar uses Salesforce Sales Cloud to capture a range of information about each customer – from their favourite style of jeans to their lifestyle and what they do for a living.

This insight enables its stylists to develop a personal rapport with each individual customer, advising them by phone on clothes and accessories, which are then delivered in a stylish trunk for the customer to try at home. Anything the customer doesn’t like is then collected by courier.

The Chapar is just one of a new breed of UK retailer that’s using technology to disrupt traditional models and blur the lines between online and physical-world shopping.

For more insights into how new technology approaches are disrupting retail, read our ebook: Engage With Today’s Customers: 4 Ways Retail Can Reimagine Business.