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Article 5 min read

Let's get phygital: Blurring online and IRL retail customer experiences

In 2023, retailers should create a seamless experience for customers across all channels.

By Meaghan Murphy, Contributing Writer

Last updated January 17, 2023

As shoppers trend towards becoming true omnichannel consumers, they’re opening both their real and virtual wallets. Consumers who blur the line between IRL and online shopping spend 70 percent more often—and about 34 percent more than people who shop exclusively in-store, according to McKinsey.

“Within the retail space, it’s not just about meeting your shoppers where they are, keeping up with their expectations, or providing a seamless experience—it’s more than that,” explains Amanda Awad, Zendesk’s Retail Industry Solutions Expert. “To truly win in retail, CX needs to drive shopper loyalty, trust, and engagement in an authentic way.”

The newly merged physical and digital retail space must be different from past models. Every aspect of this new retail environment needs to be highly conversational, whether in-store or online. Leading retailers are now competing based on the quality of their customer service—and are building experiences that differentiate them in the market.

Leading retailers are now competing based on the quality of their customer service—and are building experiences that differentiate them in the market.

Walmart is going all-in on this “phygital” strategy. The nation’s largest retailer recently launched Customer Centricity, a “three-pronged, omni approach” to retail. Walmart plans to “super-serve” its customers by leveraging retail media, augmented reality, and social commerce.

“Our mission with emerging tech is simple: How do we initiate the inspiration and the discovery of a need and then how do we shorten the distance, time and friction from the point of inspiration or need identification to actually fulfill that need?” Cheryl Ainoa, Walmart’s SVP of New Business and Emerging Technology, told Progressive Grocer. “However a consumer gets inspired or creates a need, we want to reduce the time and distance that it takes to fulfill that need.”

Shopping anytime, anywhere

Today’s customers are shopping across more channels—that includes social media. Forbes reports that 37 percent of Gen Z view shopping as a form of entertainment, and that generation finds their entertainment on social media apps. According to the latest Zendesk Customer Experience Trends Report, 14 percent of shoppers purchase products while watching live streaming events from their favorite content creators on social media.

Retail immersion on Instagram and TikTok has only increased since the onset of the pandemic and shows no signs of slowing down. Mobile apps account for 43 percent of commerce channel purchases, while 20 percent are made on social media storefronts.

But these omnichannel shoppers—whether tweens in Gen Z or retired boomers—all expect a high level of customer service:

  • 74% of shoppers expect the same level of service in-store and online

  • 69% of shoppers wish it was as easy to find items in-store as it is online

  • 64% of shoppers expect the same level of personalization in-store and online

  • 56% of shoppers look at something in-store and purchase online

Meeting shoppers where they are

The mindset of being able to shop anytime, anywhere is permanently raising consumer expectations of a seamless experience across channels. And retailers who effectively personalize the shopping experience will reap rewards—77 percent of retail leaders say that personalization increases customer retention, according to our CX Trends Report 2023.

But for many retailers, the experience they provide for customers online is completely different from what happens in-store. Building a consistent customer journey across every touchpoint, whether digital or physical, is key to creating a satisfying phygital experience in this newly blurred retail world.

It’s all about giving customers choice—providing options of how they want to interact with your brand and buy, how they want their products delivered, and what services they want to take advantage of in-store,” according to Forbes. “This choice is what keeps customers loyal and allows them to choose the right journey that suits their needs in that moment.”

Liberty London purple bag

Consistent conversations across channels

Liberty London, the enduring luxury British retailer, has been in business for almost 150 years. But with nearly half of its sales originating online, its customer service team realized that it desperately needed to modernize its CX operation. As late as 2015, Liberty London was still running a single switchboard and a shared email inbox.

Since upgrading to Zendesk, Liberty London’s CX team can now manage voice calls from the same platform they use for emails, providing a premium customer experience across all channels—both in-store and online. And with the entire customer journey available in one view, Liberty London’s customers don’t have to explain themselves over and over.

This consistent communication translates to increased spending—66 percent of consumers will spend more with companies that allow them to start a conversation on one channel and pick it up on another without needing to repeat themselves, according to Zendesk research.

3 proven strategies for merging online and offline retail experiences

Whether shopping online or in-store, consumers now expect a consistent experience and personalization across their retail journey. Here are some proven strategies for retailers to create a seamless shopping experience for customers:

Make it conversational for customers

Customers want to be able to get answers to questions as quickly and easily as possible. An AI-powered chatbot can help customers with a variety of requests—and in natural-sounding language. Four Season Hotels and Resorts found that once they implemented conversational messaging from Zendesk, their NPS score increased by seven points.

  • Empower support care agents

    Agents who can view a full conversation history are better able to help customers—and those customers are grateful that they don’t have to explain themselves over and over again. Agents who understand the context of the customer journey are better able to personalize the experience. Using Zendesk Support, Shopify was able to manage 170K monthly conversations.

  • Activate in-store associates

    IRL associates can improve CX with apps on their mobile devices. Zendesk Sunshine gives sales agents at Mizzen + Main a leg up, instantly informing them of everything they need to know about a customer, from their birthday to their shirt size. As a result, Mizzen + Main’s CSAT has increased by three percent.

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