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How the in-store retail experience is getting ‘phygital’ – and the role the right brand ambassadors play in that 

The COVID-19 pandemic may seem to be receding ever-more into the distance as far as many of us are concerned, but it is still exerting important ripple effects on the world of retail. 

Of particular interest to those organisations that may have reason to turn to specialists in immersive event staffing such as ourselves at BrandWarriors, there are signs that the retail landscape is becoming increasingly “phygital” – a portmanteau which refers to the blending of physical and digital worlds. 

Even high-street shopping will surely never again look and feel the same 

It isn’t exactly an overly distinctive or original point to make, that the waves of lockdowns and other restrictions brought upon national and global populations by the COVID-19 crisis necessitated both businesses and customers turning to technological and online-based alternatives. 

Retailers kept going, and adapted to measures implemented to minimise close in-person contact. Meanwhile, customers who were suddenly denied their customary high-street shopping experience turned to online retail in massive numbers. 

Even after the lifting of such restrictions, however, it seems that many aspects of the retail experience will never return to what they were. In the words of a recent global consumer insights survey quoted by Forbes contributor Sanford Stein: “It’s incumbent on market participants to meet consumers in both physical and digital spaces – and to meet their changing expectations.” 

Not only that, but the same survey noted that “consumers are saying that they want the physical shopping experience to be enhanced, facilitated or mediated by digital technologies.” 

3 steps that will help modernise your in-store experience for a ‘phygital’ world 

How, then, might brands in the post-pandemic era take the steps to engage customers in the ‘phygital’ ways they expect? Here are a few such moves they might take: 

  • Ensuring the ‘human touch’ is never lost

Much talk about our rapidly changing world in recent times has centred on the increasingly prominent role of artificial intelligence (AI). Retail has certainly not been immune to this, with various AI-enhanced tools being progressively introduced, and helping to reduce friction along the customer’s path to purchase. 

However, it should still be remembered – no matter how fundamental technology becomes to the shopping experience, including in-store – that the retail sector is all about people

This much was borne out by research which found that when participants were asked to rate the most significant attribute of the physical shopping experience, they gave their highest-rated response to a “knowledgeable and helpful sales associate”. This placed it well above such other factors as self-service, scan-and-go, and in-store app use. 

  • Using appropriate technologies to power customer engagement 

What also emerged from the aforementioned survey, was that while customers intended to spend a greater amount of time in brick-and-mortar settings over the coming six months, they also fully expected more “technological bells and whistles” – albeit, while still being concerned to ensure their personal security. 

Findings like this underline that today’s consumers often have a somewhat complex relationship with technology, including the sophisticated solutions they may encounter in-store. 

Furthermore, while technology augmentation in a retail store can help remove friction from the in-store experience and save on staffing costs, there are also indications that customers today have heightened expectations of personalised service and direct assistance – which tends to equate to greater friction. 

Brands looking to modernise their in-store settings in line with ‘phygital’ principles, then, will need to think carefully about how they can achieve an appropriate balance when catering to competing, and sometimes contradictory, customer priorities. 

  • De-emphasising sales associates, and emphasising brand ambassadors 

The very term “brand ambassador” should tell you something about what we are alluding to here. In the ever-evolving ‘phygital’ retail landscape, one thing that ought to be consistent should be the personnel representing your brand going beyond simply facilitating a sale. 

What we mean, is that the staff who wear your brand colours and logo should truly believe in your brand messaging, and the value of what your organisation does and stands for. Connected to this, your staff should certainly recognise what excellent service looks like – in today’s world, that means being able to engage with shoppers on their own terms. 

Combine such investment and training in your brand’s own people with the provision of relevant technology such as mobile-optimised devices, and you will be well on the way to creating an in-store retail experience that is fit for the rest of the 2020s. 

Is your brand seeking out the suitably professional, skilled, and experienced immersive event staffing that will help make all the above possible through the months and years to come? If so, please don’t hesitate to enquire to BrandWarriors, to learn more about how we can serve not just as your organisation’s one-stop staffing agency, but as “experience makers”. 


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