Covid has accelerated a shift to online shopping but retailers including Sheet Society and Officeworks have focused on creating a cross-channel experience to help drive repeat customers, sharing their journey over the last two years at the eTail Australia, WBR Worldwide event.

Sheet Society was established as a pureplay online retailer but in 2020, opened a physical store in Melbourne in recognition of the difference between the in-store and online experience, and the value each channel brings.

“We have technology available online such as augmented reality (AR) and 3D rendering to try and bridge that gap, but you just can’t touch sheets online. Some people just want to feel the product and see it in-person,” Sheet Society head of e-commerce, Ming Kang Chen said.

“Our products are at a high price point – you could spend up to $800 on a bedding set – so even with free returns and same-day delivery, it’s still high risk for some customers. We’ve got a physical bed in store, that mimics our online bed builder, where you can make the bed with our staff and see the bed. At the end of the day, we don’t mind if customers go back home feeling more confident, completing their purchase online,” he added.

Over at Officeworks, online penetration was around 25% two years ago and has now reached 46% including Click & Collect.

“We’ve essentially integrated the online business into all other aspects and departments within the business to ensure an easy and engaging every channel customer experience,” Officeworks head of e-commerce, Martina Steinmann said.

“During the pandemic, we evolved our ways of working internally, as well as our product and service offer in line with customer needs. In March 2020, it was obvious that customers needed to work or school from home and to do it quickly, so our mindset was let’s help Australian households work, learn, create and connect from home, or wherever they found themselves.”

According to Adyen head of sales for Australia and New Zealand, Tim McDonnell, businesses that consistently performed better during the pandemic were those that combined physical and digital worlds and were able to pivot from in-store payments to move online during lockdowns.

“This is brought to life when looking at our platform data. We found that despite the shift to online payments, 50% of unified commerce retailers saw overall transactions remain consistent during the pandemic,” he said.

“A great example of an innovative unified commerce merchant that piloted during the pandemic is jewellery chain, Michael Hill. They switched from in-person purchases to Zoom hosted consultations. When the customer was ready to make a purchase, they provided a payment link to finalise the transaction.”

In-store payments have now recovered but the trend towards digitally focused payment experiences is not going away. “A recent Adyen survey found that 74% of Australian shoppers expect retailers to maintain the same flexibility they’ve shown during the pandemic,” McDonnell added.