People used to fear technology “taking over.” But now most of us are never far from our cell phones, and you’d be hard-pressed to find any aspect of our lives that hasn’t been touched by technology. Physical and digital worlds are colliding, and customers want a fully integrated experience that provides access across all touch points.
A 2014 article in the Harvard Business Review dubbed this fusing of the digital and the physical as the “digical movement,” and urged companies not to fall behind. It appeared that the biggest holdup to embracing the combination of physical and digital experiences was that brands were uncertain how to fully execute a strategy.
While the growth opportunities for “digical” experiences varied across industries, the article projected that airlines, the automotive industry, insurance companies and retailers were on the verge of massive innovation.
Now here we are, still wondering what this means for marketers. Will brands continue trying to one-up each other to create the most integrated physical/digital experience? Let’s take a deeper look at what we can expect from the future of this trend.
Already on the Market
Many big-name brands are already discovering the importance of offering both a digital and physical experience. For instance, consider Amazon’s Dash buttons. These devices allow Amazon Prime subscribers to reorder set items by pressing a button small enough to fit in your pocket. Did you just put a load of laundry in and realize you’re running out of detergent? Just press your Dash button and your favorite detergent will be delivered in two days.
Amazon initially announced the release of the device right before April Fool’s Day 2015, and after clarifying that the buttons were indeed real, Dash was so popular that Amazon had to end signups just 24 hours after launch. While the practical use of the buttons took awhile to catch on, Dash is now one of Amazon’s fastest-growing services.
Following suit, Pizza Hut released a commercial on April Fool’s Day for shoes that could order pizza at the touch of a button. What initially seemed like a clever brand prank turned out to be an actual product. While Pizza Hut isn’t exactly getting into the shoe business — only 64 pair are being released as part of a limited promotion — their choice to release the commercial on April Fool’s Day shows that they know shoes that order pizza isn’t such a far-fetched idea anymore.
Then there’s Netflix, who announced socks that pause your streaming when sensors detect you’ve fallen asleep. Lowe’s Vision allows users to instantly measure rooms in their home and virtually decorate through augmented reality. There’s Walmart’s scan-and-go checkout experience designed to make in-person shopping easier, and designed to make online shopping easier. These brands are diving headfirst into the growing trend of integrating physical and digital technologies to improve consumers’ lives, and consumers are definitely buying.
With instant gratification and easy access to online shopping, retail sales have suffered. But just as technology negatively impacted this kind of brick and mortar shopping, the integration of new technologies into retail spaces has the potential to bring back some of those in-person sales. It’s the combination of “bricks” and “clicks” and, according to consulting firm Frost & Sullivan, the future of retail needs to be interactive to hold a new generation of consumers’ attention.
Some millennials and Generation Z shoppers have already begun creating some of these integrated shopping experiences — whether brick and mortar stores offer it or not. Deloitte discovered that 60 percent of consumers are using a digital device prior to shopping and 23 percent use one while in the store. Whether the smartphone use is for price comparison, looking up reviews or researching alternative products, these numbers point to the same conclusion: today’s consumers overwhelmingly prefer to consult a device for assistance in-store, rather than speak with a sales associate.
It all comes down to creating what Gartner, Inc. calls “the ambient user experience,”which involves engaging customers across all touch points — physical, digital and everything in between. For brick and mortar retailers looking to remain relevant in an increasingly digital world, embracing new in-store technologies and experiences seems almost inevitable.
The Marketing Impact
At the end of 2016, IBM, in partnership with the CMO Council, released the results of a survey of 200 marketers around the globe. While improved physical and digital integration ranked as the second-biggest goal for marketers in 2017, with 37 percent of responders listing it as a priority, only 6 percent of marketers reported that they were fully aligned across their physical and digital channels. This suggests marketers have a long way to go before achieving consistent integration.
However, it’s clear that the opportunity and the desire are already there. Technology advances have already given brands the opportunity to create both offline and online experiences that improve customer engagement. Physical brands have more digital options and digital brands have more physical options — the pendulum swings both ways.
As digital touch points integrate more seamlessly in our daily routines, marketers will have new opportunities to reach customers. Consider the rise of whole-home service systems, like Amazon’s Alexa. With voice command products growing in popularity, it won’t be long until consumers shift from typing in keywords to asking their personal digital concierge. To stay ahead of consumer expectations, brands will need innovative strategies that embrace new technology, rather than resist it.
The philosophy of acceptance over resistance is what brands and marketers have been doing to stay on top of technology changes for the last several decades — and being ahead of physical and digital integration is no different. Just as those slow to adapt to the digital marketing transformation fell behind, failing to embrace physical/digital integration poses the same risks.
This emerging trend is reshaping all areas of society, but especially commerce and e-commerce. If marketers want to get their share of consumer’s minds and wallets, they’re going to have to discover new ways to incorporate technology into consumers’ everyday experiences.