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Digital Transformation

Phygital – It’s More than a Buzzword

Smiling Couple Using Tablet Computer In A Clothes Shop

Two weeks ago I spoke at the annual SPECS Show. The retail-focused conference was centered on the physical aspects of running a retail business today, but there was also a dedicated track for discussions around digital trends. I gave a presentation on how digital and physical can meld, aka, PHYGITAL.

Buzzwords aside, customer behavior trends are driving retailers to think more about how digital experiences can improve, support, and drive foot traffic to physical experiences. My presentation focused on how retailers should think about customer expectations in devising a phygital roadmap (BTW, sometimes digital isn’t the answer), but as usual, the most interesting part of the presentation came afterwards during the 1:1 conversations. Many of the retailers on the physical side of the house I spoke with described top-down mandates in their organizations for digital and physical distribution groups to start working together to drive the bottom line. No more bickering about sale attribution; no more individual distribution channels; no more channel-specific promotions – the marching orders are: make it work and make it seamless for the customer.

While the mandate is clear, the retailers I spoke with challenged the notion that phygital is something customers really want and wondered if any phygital initiative is worth the time, cost, and organizational upheaval it will take to be successful. The short answer is, customers want these experiences. The long answer is, phygital is all about technology transparency and that is the trick of implementation and adoption.

Customers don’t want “phygital,” they want the promise it brings.

And it’s not about injecting technology into a physical location for technology’s sake. Installing digital signage in a retail store is not a phygital experience. The concept addresses the ever-evolving and non-linear path a customer takes today in their shopping journeys.

Customers don’t need to know the word to expect the concept, and its likely that initiatives retailers are already working on in the digital channel can be extended into the physical, such as:

  • Push Notifications: Add geo-targeting to trigger based on physical store proximity. Go one step further and personalize the message based on customer profile and order history data (look for a future post on how to personalize without being creepy).
  • Mobile Personalization: PWA or native app? Add the ability for content, features, or promos to be ‘unlocked’ within the app if the customer is in a physical store.
  • Inventory Transparency: Allow customers to filter products online by a physical location. Default to this filter when in a store. Even better, allow customers to ‘Shop the Store’ online while they are sitting on their couch at home.
  • Fitting Rooms/Product Trials: Allow customers to reserve or even start a fitting room online or set up an appointment to get a product demo online with post-event personalized follow up.
  • Shop Together: Use live chat features to go beyond the call center. Route product inquiries to store associates to engage with customers via live chat, text messages, or even video calling to answer specific product questions and get recommendations on outfitting, product usage, or other product-related (vs. order-related) topics.
  • Voice Enablement: In making sure your digital channels are voice-enabled, take it to the next level by letting customers ask questions of Alexa or Google Home like ‘Where’s my Order?” and “Is this product in stock?”

The above are simple examples of how retailers can start thinking about investing in phygital experiences to meet customer expectations, but as I emphasized in my last post, it’s important to make sure any phygital investment is rooted in a deep understanding of your specific customers’ needs, wants, and expectations. Otherwise, any investment will come across as inauthentic and will ultimately fail. Some examples of some phygital successes across industries include:

  • Education – Virtual classrooms connect teachers and students on opposite ends of the globe to make the world seem smaller and provide education to underserved areas.
  • Gaming – Guitar Hero anyone?
  • Healthcare – Telemedicine advances make it easy to visit a doctor virtually any time, any place.
  • Financial Services – While banking apps are ubiquitous, some financial institutions have crossed back over to offer ‘digital cafes’ in an effort to drive customer loyalty through education. Also, free coffee never hurts.

Bottom line: phygital isn’t a fad. but as organizations seek ways to provide these kinds of experiences, they must keep the customer at the center of their investments.

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Kim Williams-Czopek

Kim Williams-Czopek is a Director of Digital Strategy at Perficient. She’s been a senior leader in several digital agencies, digital product companies, and served as VP of Digital on the brand side. She specializes in customer experience, commerce, digital responsibility, and digital business strategies.

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