Right, so as ‘showrooming’ is here (people browsing in-store then using their smartphones to price-check and buy online), retailers should be looking at how they can embrace it in the long-term, not just tackle it in the short-term.

Let’s think of ‘crazy’ (not really) ideas as to how bricks & mortar businesses can do this? (bear with, there are puns) By 2014, could we be using Google Glass  to sell cruise holidays from the town centre travel agent as the potential holidaymaker views annotated video reviews – or even directs a rep to walk around the ship investigating specific features? (showboating).

And why can’t a betting shop have Heston Blumenthal-style experiences with the smell of grass and horses(!), even holding ‘Ladies Day’ with champagne to watch the horse-racing? (show-ponies… maybe not).

Could HMV rise again through interactive displays: in-store gaming with exclusive, socially-shareable game content? Or acting out scenes alongside the latest movie characters as holograms and sharing it online? All the while being able to browse the latest music releases on smart-walls?  (showtunes… I’ll stop now).

There are a couple of significant commercial and technological hurdles to jump over first, but those hurdles are becoming lower. We need to think how online marketing is just marketing, and online shopping is just shopping, if you lose the ‘digital’, forget ‘online’, it needs to be a blended, seamless experience. And experience is the key.

Offline to online, experience to purchase

We’re spending less time and money on shopping (on the high street), and using that time to socialise online (watch out for our ‘social sacrifices’ research soon). That said, can bricks & mortar retailers really use their shops to drive sales ‘online’? Will that be enough to survive the current climate?

It could be a stretch, but could we / should we redefine ‘in-store’ to allow for the shift in consumer behaviour? Could we treat it as an ‘assist’ channel like we do across online media? A shop becomes an expensive and slightly cumbersome experiential advertising campaign?

Waterstone’s began to combat the shift online years ago by simply having a coffee shop in-store. Apple do it beautifully now because people want to charge their phones for free–I mean touch their products and feel the weight of amazement in your hand, obviously.

In Waterstone’s people will continue to use the Amazon app to scan the barcode of a book and buy it for less money in One Click (even with contactless payment becoming the norm, this is difficult to beat), but Best Buy are taking the fight to the e-tailers  by price-matching other local businesses as well as the major online retailers in the US.

Could smaller retailers really afford to do this and lose their margins? Should they do this? To go back to Waterstone’s, people are in their shops to browse, to open books, and feel the weight of the book in a bag as you walk away (okay, maybe that’s just me, and I can’t save the high street on my own, but I love books like others like vinyl, I like buying real books that are tricky to read lying down, I like the smell of a book, the folded-down page corner, but that’s a different blog post altogether).

Why did the chicken cross the road? (we’d better understand its journey if we were tracking it)

To justify the cost of a physical location to drive online sales, retailers would need the ability to attribute the offline uplift that ‘traditional’ digital marketing could drive, just as we do with display advertising or search marketing, fully capturing the advertising-to-footfall-to-sales funnel would be key.

However, multi-device attribution is getting there, smartphone software knows our search behaviour, our social profile, and can track our geographic movement. Soon enough, TV advertising (even as a term, that’s dying surely?) is going to be fully conversant with your online campaigns and so why not your ‘outdoor’ campaigns, including in-store experience advertising? But if offline-to-online tracking is the chicken, then the commercial argument is a very large egg.

And with up to 17% vacancy rates on the UK high street predicted, could rent drop low enough to open this up as an indirect sales channel? Shop space costs alone are obviously not the key, retailers need to be robust enough, and bold enough, to embrace new technologies and a new way of operating. Or will the artisans take back the high street and marry up local product with the traditional experience? Without the technology and distribution centres ready for same-day supermegawow delivery? I’d like to see a mixture of both.

Whatever happens, bricks & mortar retailers need to think creatively, or like Jessops, Blockbuster, Woolworths (remember them?) they’ll stumble and fall to a seemingly intangible foe. If they can’t diversify with new revenue streams in-store, or offer more than just products, and they can’t scale up and make the leap from high street to retail park to distribution centre, or more pertinently to the Cloud, then Yazz is just noise to them (if you’re under 30, look it up).

Allow customers to have the time to stand and share.

So what’s the answer? If retailers create virtual stores like Tesco has done  using simple wall-space, then imagine what you could do with all that POS space! Why not have complementary retailers sharing walls? And to save what seems to be a bizarre anomaly of the past few years from opening and closing faster than you can say ‘Harlem Shake’, stick a Milkshake vendor in the middle of your e-commerce walls. They put foosball in their shops and still there’s no-one in there. Great idea, but get some tech with your shake and you’re away!

Can the shopping experience become much more social – in the real, offline sense of the word – or much more interactive than it has been?

Could retailers reignite shopping as an enjoyable pastime? From the stereotypical ‘Girlie shopping trip’ (sorry love) to the time when you could listen to a vinyl record in the corner of the record store, how can we build experiences that tie-in with low-margin, low-prices online ordering and smooth delivery?

We’re seeing iPads at POS so people can browse ‘the full range’ and order online in-store! Socially-connected / interactive dressing rooms with shareable images of you for immediate Facebook feedback. People still want to take their time, and ‘interact’ with products, as well as viewing them more naturally by browsing around, and as a culture we’re embracing new ways to take our time over things that have historically been a quick fix: making a coffee at home now involves machines, paraphernalia, time!

We’re baking again, for fun not through necessity, so why can’t retailers find a creative way to sell their products using the time people have and the technologies they want to use?

We’re so busy focussing on the immediacy of online shopping and delivery, we’ve not seen that people aren’t in a rush until they’ve chosen their product; what happens before ‘Add To Basket’?

What are the barriers to retailers embracing the experiential side of shopping? Apparently, Google’s set to roll out bricks & mortar stores to sell its products like the Nexus, Android smartphones and Chromebooks, but with a view to selling the much fêted Google Glass. Because people will want to take it for a test-drive (unlike their driverless cars).

So online is increasingly offline. Moo.com have just announced the opening of their first ‘real’ shop, that will double as a venue for events focused on small businesses.

It’s these multi-dimensional retailers that will showcase the seamless blending of the shopping experience; the ones that realise that there is no such thing as ‘digital marketing’ any more, it’s just good marketing.