Off-line = Off-the-Grid?

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Last week a frustrated shopper in a checkout queue had a good old moan to me about her attempts to buy leggings in her size. She’d repeatedly visited the store and been disappointed - staff would continuously advise her to order online. Online? A feisty 80-something with no access to the internet? Naturally, she was furious at being denied choice because of this.

Her feelings of disenfranchisement echo those of many mature shoppers - my own parents included. Retail is increasingly catering for the young and tech-savvy, leaving traditional shoppers with a sense of restriction in their shopping experiences. Less choice and less stock, with ecommerce increasingly used as a backstop for store shortfalls.  

A recent Guardian article trumpets online shopping as having ‘officially become mainstream’, as 54% of shoppers aged 65+ now claim to buy this way (source: Office for National Statistics). But what about the other 46%? In an ageing population, with comfortable pensioners most likely to have ready cash to spend, are retailers in danger of killing the golden goose by neglecting bricks and mortar?  

recent report commissioned by Anchor, a housing and care provider for older people, certainly suggests this may be the case. It finds that “older people aren’t getting catered in high street shops. If things aren’t improved, high street shops are at risk of losing up to £4.5 billion in lost trade each year by 2030”.

For me, the problem stems from the misguided belief that ‘omnichannel’ means the combination of bricks and clicks to deliver the complete retail experience. Surely the goal should be for each channel to play to its particular strengths to achieve the total package: Consistent, reliable access to the stuff we want to buy, in the way we want to buy it. Whether we’re packing a smartphone or not. 

A lively debate in the grocery world questions whether POS may soon become a thing of the past as digital technology offers instant access to a wealth of product information in situ to guide our decisions.  But what about the shoppers who don’t view the world through a screen? Rather than enriching the retail experience, is there a danger that technology in the wrong hands will reduce supermarkets to green-screen warehouses for an ‘underclass’ of off-line shoppers? 

I’m not for a minute suggesting putting the brakes on retail technology – this stuff is great. But we have to remember that the real driving force in retail success is ease and convenience, and this isn’t achieved in the same way for everyone. Successful multichannel strategies widen - rather than narrow - access to spending opportunities. And the best omnichannel retailers ensure that their selling space, both real and virtual, is designed to make shopping feel less complicated and more rewarding for all of their target audiences, not just the ones that look like their HQ colleagues.   

By ironing out the wrinkles in everybody’s shopping experiences, the ranks of wrinklies will be happy to join the party. Let’s welcome them, and their money, with open arms - shall we?

Sharon Hodgson - Client Services Director / Retail & Shopper expert

Annabel Gerrard