Combining online and offline shopping experiences ~ Lessons from retailers


Imagine a woman taking part in a spinning class held by her favourite department store. In fact, the shop sold her the Peloton bike she is using to burn her calories. As a loyal customer of the shop’s wellness salon, she was sent a private invitation to this class that is being run by a visiting spinning guru. She does not need to leave her house; the class is broadcast to a screen on her handlebars. Afterwards, she can shower in her own home and can send her pals a message on Viber to say how much fun she had. She will invite her friends to join her for a fragrance event in the store next week.

Department stores have always treated their customers to special experiences. Even in the 1930s, Saks Fifth Avenue in New York offered skiing lessons on a fake slope to customers. The threats to business have always been there too, such as boutique stores, discount stores, and online stores.  

The difference nowadays is tech. Online shopping suits busy people. Retailers are combining offline and online experiences in innovative ways to keeps their physical store, as well as their websites, alive.

Here are some of the ways retailers are balancing their online and offline business: 

  • Selfridges populates its Instagram feed with shots of numerous tempting in-store events. An insta of an influencer taking part in a boxing class can be posted in time for a customer to attend a class that night.
  • Liberty of London uses the store to enhance the experiences that cannot be found online. Expert advice from staff with in-depth product knowledge and sewing classes make this store feel like a welcoming local neighbourhood destination.
  • Harrods could see that shopping time was being eroded by time spent on health and beauty, so they brought those services in-store with authoritative expert consultants.
  • In New York, Saks Fifth Avenue still leads the way in experiential shopping. The customer in the spinning case study above would be an attendee of their Wellery, an entire floor given over to health and beauty. Sport is served well too and golfers can use the Drive 495 system to analyse their swing and choose the best clubs.
  • In Barneys in New York, sales staff have iPads synced up with a database of customer shopping habits, and customers can pay on the spot with Apple Pay. 
  • Selfridges in London has a Silence Room where customers can leave their phones at the door and experience silence and tranquillity.
Selfridges populates its Instagram feed with shots of numerous tempting in-store events. An insta of an influencer taking part in a boxing class can be posted in time for a customer to attend a class that night.

Chinese entrepreneurs have to be inventive, as they deal with a strict government. The internet plays a particular role in the booming Chinese lingerie market – it matters because traditional advertising is not trusted. Young, affluent Chinese customers research brands rigorously on their phones using the WeChat app. KOLs (Known Opinion Leaders – influencers) are taken very seriously. Retailers focus less on lavish experiences and more on building elusive trust and loyalty.

NEIWAI is a local success story. The brand was founded online in 2012 and opened its first, not shop, but “physical experience space” in Shanghai in 2016. Online sales were on the up and customers wanted a space to try things on. Opening a shop gave the brand the opportunity to show expertise, earn trust and earn loyalty. The Shanghai shop offered a useful personal service. A customer could be properly fitted in the Shanghai shop with measurements that would be stored for future purchases on- and offline

Oxygen, a multi-brand online store, encouraged customers to review products and thus built a community. Users became KOLs and were sent products for further photos and reviews. Their app is famous for their “A piece of bra for every occasion” marketing strategy. Every day, their app showcases one bra and pairs it with accessories and garments. These Chinese examples show how to use digital technology to engage with offline experiences.  

Keeping an eye on customer behaviour on and offline will ensure that stores receive a steady stream of happy visitors.