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Retail: how phygital reinvents home and customer journeys

5th June 2017


Physical + digital = phygital. Is this the new equation for success? Several major brands are betting it is, and launching experiments in France and the United States.

“Long presented as enemies, the physical and the digital are only now joining together. This marriage gives rise to new sales areas, where digital plays a key role,” said Martial Frugier, Director of the Retail & Ecommerce Business Unit at Webhelp. In France, there have been several notable recent experiments.

For example, inspired by the Tesla model in the United States, PSA Retail has opened its Experience Store in the heart of Paris, in a space that is “only” 500 square metres. There are four actual cars, surrounded by a cluster of digital screens. “The visitor’s journey may have begun at home, designing his dream car on a smartphone or tablet. In store, this blueprint will be immediately found and potentially enriched or explained by the seller,” said Antoine de Brossard, Director of Development for the Retail & Ecommerce Business Unit.

A brief tour of the store reveals that, in the basement, several models are waiting ready to be unboxed. PSA Retail plans to open this digital store concept in the downtown areas of Berlin, London and Madrid. And, in four or five years, some 30 sites in Europe.

The new role of in-store salespeople

In France and the United States, three new “Sephora Experiences” opened in April 2017. Phygital plays a central role, often in the form of self-service iPads. “Again, touchscreens allow for a very new type of exchange with sales teams. Makeup simulations, the ability to choose from products that can’t be seen in-store, the use of full-size screens, tutorials… digital demonstrates its value in a very seductive and personalised way,” observes Martial Frugier.

More generally, whatever the commercial sector, tablets – sometimes the size of a table – are now at the heart of exchanges between consultant and customer. Hence the emergence of a new term in retail: “bar to tablet”.

Phygital: new approaches and new opportunities

With phygital, salespeople also find their role has changed: “They must master the digital tools available to the customer if the customer asks them for help. This suggests that we will see the introduction of support teams,” states Antoine de Brossard.

This is another necessity linked to this strategy, which will be picked up by specialist startups. Alongside PSA Retail, you’ll find Lille Taktus (large tactile tables), or the Peer2Me, which specifically measures the flow of visitors in-store (store analytics). These are potentially very attractive business combinations.

Orange Bank: the option of phygital

The final important initiative to discuss today is one from Orange Bank: as of July 2017, the general public will be able to take advantage of its services using only a smartphone. Or they can come into one of the 150 shops that the operator has specially digitised, out of its network of 650. “This reassures the people who also need human contact before entrusting their money,” notes Martial Frugier.

In the near future, phygital will no longer be an option: brands will gradually have to offer it to their customers, and even bring together the best of both worlds. “New ideas could arrive to resolve well-known pain points: such as reducing waiting time at the cash desk, a problem that almost two out of three French people complain about”, notes Antoine de Brossard. The role of phygital is no longer to sell the dream, but to reinvent the customer welcome and create seamless customer journeys to boost conversion rates.


* Generix Group study: Innovation in distribution (December 2016)

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Article by: Mary Dowds

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