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Let's Get Physical! How New eCommerce Dogs are Learning old Retailing Tricks

When Amazon burst onto the scene 20 years ago, it caused a seismic shift in the world of commerce. The online company brought down slews of brick-and-mortar shops, while also paving the way for other dot-comers to emerge and steal market share. Ecommerce quickly became a force to be reckoned with.

Ever since then, the old dogs in the commerce space have been trying to learn new digital tricks. Target, for example, is one of many retailers that allows customers to buy products online and pick them up in store. Macy’s stores carry samples of online-exclusive clothing so shoppers can try them on for size. And, as I explore in this recent Forbes article, Nordstrom, Burberry and Audi have found other innovative ways to bring the best of the digital world to the physical one.

In an interesting twist, the reverse is also now true: A number of ecommerce companies are finding opportunities to bring the physical world to the digital realm. In turn, these dot-comers are solving a number of problems that have puzzled online retailers for years.

Problem: Customers want to experience some products in-person instead of viewing them online.

Solution: Build physical stores that serve as a theater of sorts, where real products can be demoed, experienced and displayed before customers. For example, online jewelry retailer Blue Nile has built brick-and-mortar stores called “Webrooms,” where customers can see, touch and try on jewelry while also receiving personal advice from stylists. From there, customers can go online to place their orders.

Problem: Customers want to ensure that their online orders are delivered safely to their home or office.

Solution: Form partnerships with physical stores. For instance, as part of its Amazon Locker service, Amazon has installed lockers in select 7-Eleven stores, so customers can have their packages delivered and stored in a secure location until they’re ready to pick them up.

Problem: Customers want the premium experience and concierge service that comes with shopping at a high-end store.

Solution: Bring the concierge to the customer. Ozon, the online retailer that’s been called “the Amazon of Russia,” hires fashion consultants to personally deliver clothing to customers and give them style advice in their homes. These consultants also provide cash-on-delivery service — ideal in an economy that still shies from credit cards as a payment method.

Problem: Customers don’t know how to select the right size when ordering clothes online.

Solution: Create a system that provides sizing advice for online shopping based on the size of clothing that customers already own. That’s precisely the service that India-based startup Fitrrati provides. On its website, customers simply need to input the brands and sizes of clothing that they already own, and Fitratti will use data analytics to make size and fit recommendations for other clothing brands.

As the lines between ecommerce and commerce continue to blur, it’s clear that the dichotomy of physical vs. digital is now false. To rise to the top of retail, companies should focus on striking the right balance of digital and physical assets to create the best experience for customers. The winning combination is yet to be seen — so game on.

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