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In an era dominated by digital and online platforms, shoppers have spoken, and physical stores are here to stay…they are just evolving.

This renaissance may come as a surprise as we begin 2024. Only a decade or so ago, it seemed like brick-and-mortars were dropping left and right as the growth of e-commerce accelerated, suggesting the future of retail would be mostly based online. We all remember category leaders like Borders going out of business, and how retail giants like Sears have been reduced to just a handful of stores across the country.

Finding harmony: Understanding online and offline preferences

Despite that, the pendulum seems to have taken a swing back. Research by Emarsys has found 54% prefer in-store shopping to any other channel. This could explain why so many direct-to-consumer brands that championed an online-only presence are more and more taking on a physical footprint. And with projections by Forrester estimating that 72% of total U.S. retail sales by 2028 will take place in physical stores, does this all suggest a return to the days of pre-online shopping?

Not necessarily; in fact, Emarsys also found 39% of consumers said they "couldn't live without online shopping."

Clearly, physical stores are here to stay and remain the backbone of retail. But online continues to play an important part, and the future of retail in 2024 and beyond lies in retailers who can seamlessly integrate the tangible with the technological.

Seamless integration: BOPIS and BORIS in today's retail

A great way to achieve this is with a buy online pick-up in-store and buy online return in-store (BORIS) strategy that combines the convenience of online ordering with the benefits of quicker in-store pickup and return to foster more meaningful in person interactions between brands and their consumers.

In response to this evolving landscape, forward-thinking retailers have been embracing BOPIS and BORIS along with innovative solutions to bridge the gap between the digital and physical realms. For retailers who have yet to adopt this sought-after convenience, the new year marks a pivotal time for transforming their brick-and-mortar locations to capture more consumers online as they rediscover the allure of in-store shopping.

A challenge and an opportunity

Online shopping still remains the king of convenience. The ease of being able to browse products from the comfort of home and have them shipped to your door cannot be matched. But a Harris Poll commissioned by Ricoh found that only 20% of Americans surveyed are willing to wait more than eight hours to receive their online purchases.

While this presents a challenge for retailers who don't have the resources like staff and infrastructure to offer same-day delivery, it creates an opportunity for a BOPIS and BORIS model that can help retailers avoid losing sales simply because customers decide to go elsewhere for quicker fulfilment.

The case for smart lockers

The good news is 77% of those same Americans surveyed said they would consider using a smart locker, also known as an intelligent locker, to receive their online purchases, and 76% said they would consider using one to make returns. So, while online shopping offers convenience, shoppers are inclined to visit a store if it means getting or returning their items faster.

The key to executing a successful BOPIS and BORIS model lies in the thoughtful fusion of technology with the in-store experience. Retailers can start by adding smart lockers to serve as a nexus between online convenience and the unique personal experience a physical store provides.

Smart lockers unlock customer engagement

Leveraging both automation and technology to expedite online order retrievals and returns, smart lockers are often placed at strategic locations within brick-and-mortar establishments. This is done not only to accommodate quick pickups and returns, but also to serve as a key touchpoint for retailers to begin elevating the in-store experience.

Smart lockers can serve as a strategic gateway for further customer engagement. By enabling retailers to initially attract customers to the store to fulfill or return online purchases, they can use the opportunity to approach and interact directly with customers about new products, promotions, or loyalty programs in-person when they arrive to pick up or return items. Moreover, the increased foot traffic can lead to additional purchases while customers are using smart lockers, ultimately presenting an invaluable chance for retailers to grow business while forging deeper connections and long-term brand loyalty with consumers.

The path forward: Tech-infused in-store experiences

After several years of consumers becoming accustomed to online shopping, the resurgence of in-store shopping has inevitably brought with it new customer behaviors and higher expectations around the in-store experience. Customers expect a more blended environment of physical and virtual features, and retailers can implement digital solutions to complement their BOPIS and BORIS activity. Deeply immersive augmented reality displays can offer interactive product demos, personalized recommendations, and virtual try-on experiences in-store, along with media and smart screens that provide store navigation and give customers access to real-time product inventory.

As retailers navigate this changing landscape of consumer preferences and expectations, integrating a BOPIS and BORIS strategy presents a lucrative opportunity to meet these desires. A simple decision that starts with one element, such as smart lockers to address the need for speed and convenience in online order fulfillment, can proliferate into a myriad of opportunities that enhance the overall in-store experience, cultivate customer engagement and drive incremental sales.