Throughout the past year-and-a-half, magazines, newsletters and websites everywhere have been presenting readers with scores of daily articles and news pieces highlighting the many shifts and pivots that have occurred within the industry since the onset of the pandemic. Much of the emphasis has been on the digitization of the retail business. And, rightly so, given the fact that the digital efforts of most merchants have been accelerated by at least three to five years. It’s an acceleration that’s been brought about by COVID-induced restrictions on in-store activity and the consumers’ need to explore and discover alternate ways of shopping. And, according to a recent report produced by Snap Inc. in partnership with global consumer trends agency, Foresight Factory, the continuation of retailers’ digital innovation and adoption will be critical in engaging and attracting the interest of today’s tech-savvy consumer.
The rise of digital in the physical environment
The report, titled Future of Shopping: Canada Market Report 2021, analyzes the current shift in consumer shopping behaviour and how it might impact new and elevated digital expectations with respect to the post-pandemic retail experience. And, within its findings, it’s evident that retailers everywhere are being presented with a big opportunity to leverage the latest in digital innovation in order to enhance the physical in-store experience and drive a new kind of retail engagement. According to the report, 19 percent of Canadian consumers would go out of their way to visit a store that provided a service which offered instant access to stock information, a number that rises to 28 percent for millennials. Further, 47 percent of consumers say that they would use such a service if it was available in a store they already planned to visit. It’s engagement that’s centred around convenience and personalization and is a movement that Matt McGowan, GM of Snap Inc. Canada, doesn’t see slowing any time soon.
“The disruption to life over the past 18 months has underscored the growing importance of digital in the shopping experience,” he says. “We have seen brands step up to offer enhanced shopping experiences through things like virtual try-on and more seamless ecommerce capabilities. Consumers in turn have shown themselves to be more than willing to embrace digital shopping experiences, such as augmented reality, which many shoppers have come to expect. For example, our study with Foresight Factory found that more than 1 in 3 global shoppers already expect augmented reality to be available now when they’re shopping for items such as clothes, beauty, furniture, luxury and cars.”
Digital driving footfall
Beyond the expectations of today’s consumer, however, digital technologies used to create a more engaging and convenient experience for the consumer are set to reap dividends for the physical retail space. The report indicates that one in three (31%) of Canadian shoppers are willing to go out of their way to visit a store that offers interactive virtual services such as a smart mirror that allows them to try on clothes or makeup. In fact, McGowan explains that since Snap Inc., which owns social networking platform Snapchat, introduced augmented reality try-on experiences through its app in May 2020, engagement with the technology, and the rewards that retailers receive as a result, have been impressive.
“Since we introduced augmented reality try-on experiences just over a year ago, it has been inspiring to see the number of engaging campaigns from brands that have allowed shoppers to virtually try-on and shop products like shoes, makeup, eyewear, and more,” he says. “For example, Canadian eyewear retailer Clearly used Snapchat to drive a 3.6 percent purchase lift with their augmented reality try-on Lens.”
Mobile phones connecting the online and offline worlds
Despite enhancements that might be made to the in-store experience, however, the pandemic has influenced a shift toward online channels for purchases that is seemingly going to remain consistent going forward. The report finds that 1 in 4 Canadian shoppers intend to shop online even more in the year ahead compared to the last 12 months, compared to just 14 percent who say they will shop online less in a post-pandemic environment. Though increasing online activity may seem counterintuitive to the success of physical retail, the subsequent rise in mobile commerce has the potential to connect the online and offline retail worlds in a really profound way. According to the report, 1 in 2 Canadian shoppers say that they use their phone in-store to compare prices and look for product reviews and other information, while 45 percent admit that they would never go shopping without it, a number that rises to more than 60 percent among the Gen Z and millennial cohorts.
In fact, according to the report, the mobile phone has become more of a connector over the course of the past year-and-a-half, serving as a social conduit of sorts and means by which to shop, with 37 percent of shoppers sharing screenshots of products they’re interested in with their friends. Further, 31 percent of respondents say they have been sharing screenshots more frequently since the start of the pandemic. And the penchant to do so is even stronger among younger consumers, with 50 percent of Gen Z shoppers claiming that their screenshot sharing has increased over the past year-and-a-half. This behaviour presents big opportunities for retailers to engage willing shoppers. While much of this kind of activity takes place in private social channels and direct messaging, the report suggests that “branded social experiences can help consumers create easily sharable content beyond the simple screenshot”, enabling retailers to cultivate new relationships and continue developing those that have already been formed.
Ensuring a connected shopping experience
A lot has changed over the course of the past 18 months or so, changes that have gone a long way toward shaping a consumer that’s even more connected now than they were prior to the pandemic and influencing a further blurring of the lines between the physical and digital worlds. These changes have resulted in the formation of a single retail marketplace where consumers can leverage a confluence of channels and experiences to fulfill their desires. They’ve also precipitated a need for retailers to develop a clear understanding of their behaviours in order to satisfy their increasing appetite for digital experiences and support the enhancement of the offering they provide. And, according to the report, as consumers seek to build renewed connections with the physical world, but also retain the convenience of online, “Canadian retailers will need to test and evaluate the technological solutions -from virtual try-on to smart mirrors – which will achieve this and further accelerate connected shopping today.”