Brick and Mortar Boutiques Go Digital

If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. To compete with online retailers, Australia’s brick and mortar boutiques are creating digital solutions to draw shoppers through their doors again.

Not everyone enjoys shopping online.

Lisa Marsh, an administration manager, is one such person.

“I’m happy to shop online for products such as skincare, where I’ve already established what brand I like and it’s easier to do repeat orders online,” she said. “But when it comes to things like clothing, shoes or gifts, something I need to see, check the quality and fit, I’ve found it better to go in store.”

To capture buyers like Lisa, Australian brick and mortars are focusing on what they do best – bespoke products and intimate shopping experiences.

Mon Purse’s Sydney boutique store for instance, gives shoppers the opportunity to design their own luxury leather bag, in what chief executive Lana Hopkins described as an “art gallery” experience.

Meanwhile other retailers incorporate the digital experience in-store, by using image recognition, or even virtual reality.

For instance, Priceline pharmacies allow customers to try L’Oreal makeup via a “makeup genius” smartphone app. This is turn, increases the likelihood of a buyer making a purchase in-store rather than online.

“Customers want a seamless interaction between media platforms and their in store experience,” said Marketing Eye retail marketing strategist, Lisa O’Keefe. “Technology such as wearables is allowing retailers to interact with customers in their physical premises and provide that customised intuitive experience.”

Online Shopping Purchasing Commercial Electronic Concept

Do you “Ropo”?

There are different types of shoppers out there. Some research online before buying in-store. Others, the other way round.

Lucas Bigwood, co-founder of shopping app Raincheck, says more people do the former. “Ropo” or “Research Online, Purchase Offline” activity accounted for 86 per cent of retail sales compared to the opposite trend of researching in store and buying online.

In fact, the emphasis on ecommerce has been somewhat exaggerated. According to market research company eMarketer, ecommerce only accounted for over 4 per cent of total retail sales in the country in 2014, and is expected to grow by just 1.5 per cent by 2018.

“Pure play online retailers have a big problem as their return rates are really high. Some have now moved into having pop-up or permanent physical stores, or concessions within the major department stores,” he said.

RainCheck helps shoppers locate online items in store.
RainCheck helps shoppers locate online items in store.

This eventually provided the basis for Bigwood’s app, Raincheck. Users of the app get to save a list of items found online, after which an alert will be sounded on their smartphones if the physical store they’ve entered stocks their items.

Regardless, most of it depends on what the shopper is buying.

“(There are) high-touch and low-touch goods,” said Bigwood. “Low-touch are like airline tickets and hotel rooms, which are based on price and can be easily bought online. But for high-touch goods such as clothing, people want to go into a store and try it on.”

Online or Offline?

For now though, avid online shopper Mick Tschaba will be doing his Christmas shopping online.

Tschaban’s experiences have mainly been positive, with sellers usually quick to provide a refund should an item get lost in the mail.

He says it could be a “generational” thing. With each generation, a new set of consumer behaviour traits emerge.

“The older generation is worried about credit card theft, while my generation is happy to rely on the websites’ security,” he said. “But there will always be people who like going out and shopping.”

The retailers are probably hoping so too.

Hero image: Getty.

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