Shopify’s Satish Kanwar says ‘hybrid’ retail requires brands to be flexible

In today’s digital landscape, people have more paths to purchase than ever before. While fashions change from season to season, an omnichannel approach is becoming more than a passing trend in retail.

With consumers becoming more familiar with the convenience of ecommerce, modern retailers are expected to adopt ‘hybrid’ retail practices to ensure they are creating valuable experiences both in-store and digitally. Recently, BetaKit teamed up with Digital Main Street and the City of Toronto to host a live chat highlighting the new rules for the modern retail environment.

In the video below, Satish Kanwar, vice president of product at Shopify, and Damon Sloane, vice president of retail innovation and client success at Kinetic Commerce, share their thoughts on the notion of hybrid retail, the relationships customers expect from brands in person or online, and what tech is required to power a hybrid approach.

“Hybrid retail is really about the blending of those types of experiences and being flexible to the demands and state that each customer is in when they come into that experience.”
– Satish Kanwar

“Over the past five years, we’ve seen consumers become a lot more agnostic to where and how they shop,” said Kanwar. “What we’re seeing now is that when [customers] enter these retail environments, it used to be that you would go through your entire consumer experience from discovery to selection, purchase, support, service, all by entering that experience, except today, most people have already interacted with that brand before coming into that store.”

Kanwar says because of customers’ changing expectations and interactions with brands, retailers have to become more versatile in the way they interact with customers.

“Hybrid retail is really about the blending of those types of experiences and being flexible to the demands and state that each customer is in when they come into that experience,” said Kanwar. “We’re living in a world where, imagine if ecommerce came first. It’s not about ecommerce or physical retail or mobile or any of these things, it’s about the collective experience which really starts with the identity and state of every single customer.”

Sloane said bricks-and-mortar stores are adopting hybrid retail practices by leveraging digital tools to create seamless in-store experiences for customers.

“Brands are realizing that they can’t out-Amazon. They’re realizing that the best assets they have are their physical spaces, and their store associates.”
– Damon Sloane

“Brands are realizing that they can’t out-Amazon. They’re realizing that the best assets they have are their physical spaces, and their store associates,” said Sloane. “What’s changed with all that time spent shopping online is that the experience and expectations that customers have is that they should be able to have really quick access to inventory, the ability to just check out in any kind of space, not this odd mentality of the PoS desk. The smart retailers are looking at how they can equip their store associates with tools and technology to provide the experience of online shopping in-store.”

Kanwar and Sloane also discussed “drop culture,” which is shifting the way consumers are buying products and services in physical spaces. Kanwar said a “drop” is a product release of something that is in high-demand and limited inventory; a way of releasing goods that create massive hype, attention, and demand.

“It’s a tactic for retailers to sell out of a product as quickly as possible,” said Sloane. “It’s being part of a subculture. It’s exclusive. This is not mass market, fast fashion. It’s a nod to people that ‘Hey, I’m part of this sub-culture too, and that kind of gives me credibility.’”

When asked about how Canada is doing overall to keep up with digitization in the retail space, Kanwar said that historically, Canadian businesses have been slower to adopt technology, but was hopeful that the growth of Canada’s technology sector will change that. Kanwar also noted that as larger retailers catch up, small businesses will need greater support to adopt digital practices.

“By no means is it a zero-sum game,” said Kanwar. “I think what we’re talking about is taking traditional small businesses and helping them grow and deliver the kinds of customer experiences that are expected today.”

Overall, Kanwar and Sloane stressed that to keep up with the expectations of a “modern consumer,” traditional retailers will have no choice but to innovate. Watch the video below to hear more about the steps modern retailers can take (and are taking) to ensure they’re keeping up with the changing industry.

Amira Zubairi

Amira Zubairi

Amira Zubairi is a staff writer at BetaKit. As a fourth-year journalism student who has written primarily about entrepreneurship, Amira has developed a growing interest in Canadian startup, business, and tech news. In her free time, Amira enjoys reading, baking and watching legal shows.