Huge range and the convenience of shopping delivered to your door are the main axes on which ecommerce businesses have sought to compete with their offline counterparts. Waitrose is now fighting back by improving the convenience of their in-store experience.
They already have a system called Quick Check which allows shoppers to scan their food as they take it off the shelves and then pack it straight into the bags they will take home. Payment can then be made at the end without the going through the usual unpack-pay cashier-repack process. Then last week they announced plans to use Apple’s iBeacon system to send shoppers personalised content and promotions relevant to their specific location in-store. On top of that they have various apps in the works to help people shop better and smarter.
Shopping better and smarter takes the axis of competition higher up Maslow’s hierarchy of needs towards self-actualisation. E.g. Waitrose’ wine and recipes apps will help people learn, feel more comfortable about their knowledge, and look better in front of their guest.
The bigger point here though is where this is all heading. I remain convinced that ecommerce will grow to take a far greater share of the pie than it’s current 9% (US figure), but I stop short of thinking that software will eat the entire High Street, at least not any time soon. As Marc Andreessen said last year when he predicted the death of traditional retail, it comes down to the quality of the shopping experience. With Waitrose and others working just as hard to improve the offline experience as startups from the ecommerce world are working to improve the online experience I can’t see either camp offering something that is better enough for all types of shoppers to make a decisive difference. Rather I think we will see the line between online and offline fade away as traditional retailers employ more tech in store, and continue to grow their click and collect and online businesses, and ecommerce vendors will make greater use of physical presences to build their brands and drive sales.