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At the National Retail Federation’s 2016 convention and expo, retailers shared their evolving thinking when it comes to e-commerce. As a Computerworld article reveals, retail giants are realizing that e-commerce alone is no longer enough, and that “success means merging online and in-store.” In retail, the question of online versus offline sales is now a false dichotomy.

"It's not, do you want brick-and-mortar or digital? The answer is both," said Kevin Plank, founder and CEO of Under Armour. "The brands that win truly understand how to live online and understand how to live offline.”

With this insight, retailers are breaking down silos to make sure that the in-store customer experience works seamlessly with the online experience.

"It's not, do you want brick-and-mortar or digital? The answer is both." 

-Kevin Plank, founder and CEO of Under Armour

“Our guests expect a seamless experience,” says Paul Gainer, executive vice president of Disney Retail, an enterprise that brings $45 billion in global sales annually. “Two-thirds of those who've made a brick-and-mortar purchases have been online."

This overlap between the offline and online business motivated Gainer to consolidate the e-commerce and physical store divisions into one. “The future consumer is going to expect a quality, seamless experience and we are focused on that,” he says about the importance of providing a cross-channel shopping experience.

Just a few years ago, retailers—especially those that thrived before the digital age—were obsessing over e-commerce, which includes desktop and mobile shopping. Today, however, both traditional retailers and e-commerce sites are realizing the importance of offline sales.

Perhaps the most notable move demonstrating this evolution in retail thinking comes from Amazon, a company that shook retail to its core by leading the e-commerce revolution. In late 2015, the company opened its first brick-and-mortar bookstore.

Amazon Books - Amazon's brick-and-mortar bookstore(Photo source: Amazon)

In a statement, Amazon Books vice president Jennifer Cast said that the bookstore, located in University Village in Seattle, is “a physical extension of,” adding that the company used its 20 years of ecommerce experience to “build a store that integrates the benefits of offline and online book shopping.”

In a similar move, other e-commerce sites like Warby Parker and Canada’s Indochino and Clearly have opened up physical shops after spending years building their brand and their business online. Kyle Vucko, CEO and co-founder of Indochino, says the move is largely driven by customer feedback, which indicated that people wanted to visit physical stores to see and feel the company’s products and talk to its stylists.

In the larger business world, the trend toward an omnichannel experience that integrates the physical and online world is more evidence of growing customer empowerment. Unlike marketers, customers don’t care much about sales channels—they want to be able to smoothly get what they need in any channel. The highly nuanced path to purchase means retailers need to have the infrastructure in place to deliver a seamless customer journey in all channels.

Improving the customer experience is easier said than done though, and for companies to be able to do that, they need to incorporate customer intelligence in their strategies and tactics. Engaging with shoppers for their feedback should be a good start.

As Under Armour’s Plank reiterated at the NRF conference, “We need to meet our customers, no matter where they are."

The Retail Survival Guide: Retail isn’t dead…but your brand soon might be

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