woman with cell phone by shopping area in winter
Physical Web touchpoints enhance the shopping experience with digital and interactive experiences. PHOTO: JESHOOTS

Today’s shoppers move comfortably between physical and digital. They browse merchandise, then research alternatives. They handle products, then check reviews.

Online touchpoints are integral to the purchasing journey.

The problem for brick-and-mortar retailers is Amazon has a huge advantage in the digital domain because it has multiple in-store touchpoints. Most mobile searches lead to Amazon. It also has a popular app, giving it the advantage of being easily reached.

Physical Web Touchpoints

To keep up, brick-and-mortar retailers must also have touchpoints that lead directly to them. Physical Web touchpoints are an emerging technology that enables retailers to seamlessly integrate digital engagement into store visits.

Think of them as “call boxes” for mobile devices. They create proximity zones ranging in size from a few meters to an entire department where shoppers can directly engage with retailers via their mobile devices.

Physically, they are Bluetooth beacons, but they may also be other types of proximity devices.

Place one in a display area or near a product and one can offer experiences to build loyalty or move a shopper to purchase. Because they are so simple to deploy and use standard web-based content, they can be easily moved or have their content updated as marketing needs change.

An Open Standard

Most importantly, Physical Web touchpoints are universal. The Physical Web is an open standard, so its touchpoints work with a variety of mobile applications and browsers.

Android’s Nearby and the Chrome iOS browser are compatible, meaning shoppers can engage with Physical Web touchpoints without having the retailer's app.

At the same time, retailers can easily make their apps Physical Web compatible, thus giving shoppers multiple paths to engage. In operation, engagement is a simple screen swipe from a browser or the tap of a “nearby button” from an app.

Easy Recognition Via Universal Logo

Physical Web’s universal logo
Physical Web’s universal logo

Physical Web touchpoints are marked with the Physical Web’s universal logo, which lends itself to easy recognition across retailers, restaurants, museums and transportation hubs.

In addition, Android’s Nearby Notifications feature makes use of low-priority notifications, which show touchpoints when a shopper wakes his or her smartphone. And when in background, compatible apps can also quietly preview nearby Physical Web content with drop-down notifications.

Context Enhances In-Store Experiences

The Physical Web is a proximity technology where content is managed to specific locations, but it also captures shopper intent.

Similar to “search,” shoppers preview Physical Web content and choose to interact, so the retailer knows exactly what has interested the shopper. Interaction with Physical Web touchpoints also identifies the shopper (when opted in from a compatible app), which enables personalization.

Shoppers come to retailers because they like to see and handle products. Physical Web touchpoints can enhance the shopping experience by connecting physical experiences directly with digital and even interactive experiences.

Using Physical Web Touchpoints

Anything you can do on a website can be done on the Physical Web. This includes:

  • Linking shoppers to in-store chat (or chatbots) so they get immediate answers from product experts.
  • “Secret Deal of the Day” or other gamification. Curiosity is a strong motivator to stimulate engagement.
  • “Tap to text” actions to collect phone numbers in exchange for a sample, service or promotion.
  • Premium content for loyal shoppers. For example, app users can receive a better offer than window shoppers using a browser.
  • Video demos
  • Alternate language content
  • Providing direct access to an “endless aisle” of out-of stock or alternate product configurations

Touchpoints can also be leased to brands, which creates revenue while also distributing content creation, thus keeping content fresh.

Options for Brick-and-Mortar Retailers

Shoppers are driving the use of mobile while shopping because they find it useful. They will also choose the path of least resistance to finding helpful content.

Right now, Amazon sits at the end of that path, but the Physical Web creates a powerful way for brick-and-mortar retailers to grab their share of digital interactions.

Placing Physical Web touchpoints throughout stores interweaves physical and digital interactions to create the kinds of in-store experiences that will drive loyalty and sales.