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Getting Phygital for Christmas

By Retail Technology | Friday November 19 2021

‘Phygital’ strategies will win Christmas on the high street by Valentina Candeloro, International Marketing Director, Mood Media

Stores always need to smell and sound like Christmas but this year they need to blend in digital experiences too to win the festive battle on the high street

After Christmas on the high street was cancelled last year, the good news for retailers is that
consumers are looking forward to pulling out the stops to make the festive season more special than ever this year.

The even better news is this is going to involve a lot of trips to the high street because 80% of shoppers now say they are comfortable going back to physical stores, according to the Mood Media 2021 Shopper Sentiments report. Only 5% of shoppers reveal they are not feeling at all comfortablewith the prospect of going back into stores.

This excitement about being able to visit shops again is underpinned by more than half of shoppers, 59%, revealing they have missed the ability to feel and touch potential purchases and 45% missing the opportunity to discover new products. More than a third, 35%, also miss the social aspect of a trip to the shops with friends and family.

Shoppers are not only revealing they will be heading for the high street, more than four in five, 84%, expect there will be no major difference between their pre-pandemic spending levels and this years budget.

Embrace phygitalfor success

So, shoppers are going to flock back to the high street this year, raising the question, are retailers prepared?

The answer is likely to be a question of how well they are able to blend physical and digital experiences to provide, what is being called, phygitalretailing. It would be all too easy to assume that after a sustained period of non-essential shops being closed in the UK, and across Europe, that online ordering will remain the main shopping channel for consumers.  However, the rise of online during the pandemic is only half the story. Online sales rose from a fifth of retail sales to a third during lockdown, ONS figures show, but they immediately fell back to a quarter the moment shops were allowed to reopen.

Digital ordering rose to the challenge when people needed it most, but humans still like to socialise, meet up with friends and look out for gifts together, perhaps catching up over a coffee. That is why this notion of phygital, of blending bricks and mortar with digital, is going to be essential to successful retailing.

Shoppers no longer expect a retailer to place barriers between digital and physical interaction, they expect a seamless omnichannel experience. The most obvious manifestation for this new mindset is that a third of shoppers revealed that they expect to click and collect.

This is going to be incredibly important this year because of concerns over supply chains across the world being under strain. Customers are naturally going to relish the reassurance of reserving items to ensure they are ready to collect when they walk into a store.

Again, this is only the start. This new era of phygitalexperiences has to extend to allow a customer to both touch and feel stock in-store a priority for 45% of shoppers -- but to also interact with the store digitally at the same time. Common use cases include using an app for in-store navigation, as well as checking on stock levels and browsing the retailers entire range, in case that precious gift is available in another of the stores outlets, in the right size and colour, and can be reserved for the shopper, or delivered to their home.

The smell and sound of Christmas

In store, this blending of digital and physical will obviously need to start out with the Christmas favourites of catchy yuletide music and pleasing scents of cinnamon, gingerbread, or Christmas trees. We already knew before the pandemic these sensory tactics are essential to create a festive shopping experience. This year, though, they are going to be more important than ever.

Losing the ability to smell is a symptom of Covid and so scientists have been working hard on how neural pathways operate. In so doing, their research has  improved their understanding of how odours elicit strong emotions by sending signals straight to the hippocampus, the memory centre of the brain. At a time of reconnecting with past shopping memories and behaviours, that instant scent of Christmas prompting memories of happier times is likely to be even more pleasing than previous years.

Audio is also central to shopping experiences. The link between what shoppers can hear and their spending behaviourhas already been proven by scientists. In one experiment, researchers have shown that a supermarket can increase sales of German wine by playing German music, or French wine by playing French tunes. This link between audio creating the right mood for shoppers is going to be more important than ever this festive season as people return to stores expecting to feel Christmassywith music playing a major role.

The key for retailers is going to be combining these audio and scent tactics, which they already know work, with the digital experiences that consumers are expecting to use more frequently than the last time the high street was open for the festive season.

By getting it right, retailers will be able to deliver the most important aspect of the modern consumer experience instant gratification. Shoppers want that irreplaceable feeling of leaving a store with their gifts in a bag and stores that provide this by excelling at phygitalexperiences will be the ones they will be loyal to.

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