customer experience retail

The Future of Customer Experience is Hybrid

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Consumer experiences and expectations have changed drastically over the years. Throughout it all, analysts have frequently predicted the death of brick-and-mortar, and while the pandemic has further threatened these businesses, the ones who have adapted to customer expectations have largely survived. Still, the need for further innovation has never been greater. 

Today, the most successful businesses won’t just offer a one-size-fits-all journey. Rather, they will implement multiple online and in-person options that allow the company to reach all types of consumers. Predominantly, physical businesses will implement successful digital elements found in online experiences, while online businesses will focus on providing a unique experience that drills down on human connection. These businesses will prove that perceived conflicting business models, such as brick-and-mortar and e-commerce, can excel together.

There is little doubt that the role of brick-and-mortar businesses in the customer journey will change. While many consumers still value doing business locally, pandemic-driven online conveniences will continue to hold a significant place in the customer journey, creating the ultimate hybrid experience. 

Hybrid experiences are key to reaching all audiences

Ever since the start of the pandemic, practically everything – including how we work and what we consume – has become hybrid in some fashion. And customer habits are definitely no exception. Today, the majority of consumers prefer to interact with location-based businesses using a mix of online and offline channels. 

One of the main hybrid shopping trends escalated by the pandemic is in-store or curbside pickup. Here, consumers can purchase a product or service online and go to the physical store to pick it up. This takes the delivery aspect out of the equation and allows the consumer to potentially get the product today instead of having to wait a day or two for delivery. The online payment and ordering reduces the amount of time they have to spend in the store, too. Similar hybrid experiences have emerged in industries such as healthcare and hospitality. 

According to consumer survey data, customers today prefer such hybrid experiences. In fact, 74% of consumers have a preference that combines a mix of online and in-person channels, according to a recent consumer survey Uberall conducted. 

Local CX advantage in a hybrid world

For businesses, it’s not about what channel consumers prefer. Instead, businesses should focus on what type of customer experience customers value and the advantages that both digital channels and in-person experiences offer. Consumers don’t just choose a specific channel for the sake of it – they choose it for the seamless, outstanding experience they can get. 

We tend to forget that e-commerce businesses aren’t purely online and sometimes take bold measures to compete with the personal touch of brick-and-mortar businesses. To give you an example, this is exactly why Zappos and Zalando allow you to order five pairs of shoes and send four or even all five back if you choose to do so. They do this to compete with the experience of a local shoe store, where it’s not a problem at all if the shoe you picked doesn’t fit. You don’t have to buy it but just try the next one instead.

Location-based businesses are, in turn, innovating by leveraging technology — such as phone payments — to provide a better local experience, providing online visibility into local inventory, offers, and amenities, and making good on the expectation with a great offline experience. Both online and offline businesses are becoming hybrid, and each has a slight advantage depending on which experience best meets the customer’s goals. 

Specifically, location-based businesses have local advantages like: 

  • ‘Need-it-now’ convenience
  • The promise of real-time human expert consultation 
  • Unique real-world experiences, like smelling tea at a speciality shop 

What’s next?

A post-pandemic future gives businesses the chance to evaluate how to best do business and what exactly consumers will value. Brick-and-mortar businesses have an incredible opportunity to redefine what the new local hybrid experience looks like. 

The winners in this new hybrid world will be those businesses that show up when the customer is looking (likely online), create a standout digital brand presence that gets noticed and selected over competitors, and foster an overall experience so good that customers become loyal and bring others with them. 

Florian Hübner is CEO & Founder at Uberall.