E-commerce discovers the joys of shops

It’s 9:55 AM. Digitec’s store in Lausanne will open in 5 minutes but there are already six of them in front of the entrance. Upon opening, they go to a terminal, take a ticket and then wait to be called to a counter where the vendors are.

One of the customers of the online sales site quickly leaves with a printer that he had previously ordered over the Internet. Another lingers at the cameras that can be seen in the ‘showroom’. A third explained to him how a miniature projector works.

Like many other ecommerce platforms, Digitec Galaxus now relies on brick and mortar stores. A hybrid business model that allows it to better retain its customers and gain the market shares, still the majority, of traditional commerce faster.

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“The visitor peaks are usually around noon or at the end of the day, but there are customers all day long. They come from Lausanne, Geneva, Friborg, Wallis and sometimes even from France,” assures Steve Cosandey, the manager of the Digitec store, which has both a storage space and a call center attached. “It’s not just a place of retreat, the goal is to make contacts and give advice,” he continues. We think it is important, especially for the older generation, to know that behind the website there are professionals they can turn to.”

“I like human contact”

Outside Marcos leaves with an extra large mouse pad. “It’s a model for gamers,” he explains, before confirming the manager’s words: “I was a customer in another specialty store, but I’ve changed, I like them more here.” Paradoxically, this computer specialist doesn’t order anything online: “I check the site to see what they have in stock, but I’d rather come here to buy, I like human contact.”

Originally, Digitec, which founded Galaxus in 2010 to expand its product range into furniture and sporting goods, was just an IT-specialized website. But gradually it has developed a network of shops and logistics centers. The Zurich-based company, which has launched an extensive poster campaign in recent months, now has nine in the country, including a hub in Wohlen. It should open a tenth store in Geneva soon.

Zalando reassures Heidi.com

This evolution towards a hybrid e-commerce model is not an isolated one. If the big traditional brands have long understood the necessity of having a website, the opposite examples, of online merchants investing in physical presence, have multiplied. Since 2012, Koala.ch, the site in Geneva specializing in shoes, has been working together with the store in Aeschbach. But at the end of April, during a presentation at Palexpo, his boss revealed his goal for 2016: to open new stores.

Read also the interview with Florian Teuteberg (Digitec): On the internet “price isn’t everything”

In Neuchâtel, the small clothing brand Heidi.com has also bet on a hybrid model. For over ten years she sold only through her site. But in late 2013, it opened a resolutely futuristic retail space. In Neuchâtel, the minimalist-style store has two interactive terminals that allow customers to consult the entire stock of products and then order online in the store.

A mix of genres that is a bit too futuristic at the moment, admits Willy Fantin, co-founder of Heidi.com. “Buying is still a bit difficult. It will take some time for the concept to become mainstream. On the other hand, these terminals are a very good working tool for the saleswoman who accompanies the customer.” If the concept still needs improvements, for the connection or payment method, Willy Fantin is convinced of the relevance of this hybrid strategy. “The fact that I see the major websites investing in physical stores confirms me in this direction.”

He can be reassured. Zalando, the emblem of the explosion of e-commerce, is also taking a step towards so-called “stationary” commerce. From its inception, the Berlin-based online clothing giant has based some of its success on long-standing consumer habits. Respectively, the ease with which its customers can try out items at home – for free – and only keep what suits them.

Three quarters of sales in the store

Today, Zalando wants to expand to high streets and shopping centers† His idea: link up with existing stores. In Berlin, the Bodycheck brand acts as a test balloon. Customers order on the Zalando site and their package is delivered by the partner, where it is also possible to return the clothing. “Zalando’s idea is also to transfer the risk of stocks to traders. That said, no one can imagine opening hundreds of stores like H&M or Zara,” said Patrick Kessler, president of the Swiss Distance Selling Association (ASVAD).

According to him, this trend towards the hybrid first acquires a mathematical logic. Despite strong growth, online commerce currently represents only 15% (clothing and shoes) to 25% (electronics) of the Swiss market. The rest is still sold in stores. A windfall that sites also want to take advantage of, knowing that the conversion rate – the ratio between the number of visits and the number of sales – varies between 1 and 2% online, compared to about 30% in a store.

The combination has to be perfect

Order online, have an item sent to you or pick it up yourself at the office. Test at home, return it by post or return it to a collection point… In addition to the speed of delivery, the diversity of interaction models today is the nerve of war in an increasingly competitive world. “Provided that the combination between the website and the stores is perfect, this mix is ​​the future of e-commerce,” launches Patrick Kessler.

It is not for nothing that Digitec Galaxus is starting to chase the Media Markt and other M-Electronics in Switzerland. In April 2015, the Migros group became the majority shareholder of the company. The most visible consequence is that it is now possible to withdraw or return an order at the distributor’s subsidiaries, such as Ex Libris, SportX or in Migrolino stores.

To complete the system, in Lausanne, near the Prilly-Malley station, the Digitec Galaxus store also offers free parking to its customers. A parking space that he shares with his immediate neighbor, Aldi, another new trader who in his own way is also kicking the old habits of the Swiss retail trade.

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