Let’s Get Phygital!


Certain words or phrases may irritate you, but they are often useful nonetheless. SoLoMo (SOcial, LOcal, MObile) and phygital (PHYsical + diGITIAL) would be two terms that instantly raise my hackles. But, together they conveniently describe what’s happening in a myriad of vertical markets driven by our mobile march towards a planet of “Phono Sapiens”.

With media consumption having surrendered to mobile as far back as 2013, the frontrunner in the continued world domination of our ubiquitous handheld tech is arguably retail. Consumers are using their mobile devices for browsing, sharing, comparing, showrooming and purchasing; while smart retailers are opening the portable floodgates to optimize sales, marketing, surveys, support, customer care, delivery, supply chain, and even employee management. Our mobile devices are the invisible connections between our physical and digital worlds, on both sides of the commercial coin.


Consumer Mindset

As defined by Forrester, we have moved beyond the ages of manufacturing, distribution and information, and are now in the midst of the “age of the customer”. Empowered buyers have given rise to a new era where embracing the “mobile mind shift” has become a critical market imperative, alongside digital disruption, leveraging big data, and transformational Customer Experience (CX).

Forrester’s lead analyst and VP, Julie Ask, describes the mobile mind shift: “Mobile has reprogrammed your customers’ brains. They now turn to their smartphones for everything. Your new battleground for customers is this mobile moment — the instant in which your customer is seeking an answer.“

Effectively meeting your retail customers in this “mobile moment” is a deal-breaker for many. Julie continues: “In mobile moments you begin to think about the needs of consumers on the go. You proactively serve consumers based on their context… this will transform your entire business.”

make it so

But how do you actually “make it so”? Here are a few practical examples from mobile innovators on the phygital frontlines:

John Lewis

One of the UKs’ leading chains of upmarket department stores, John Lewis, is embracing the new “phygital” mobile mindset with some typically well-designed and understated solutions. Many of their flagship UK stores now provide free wifi, and actively encourage smartphone users to install a native app via an NFC- enabled poster.

In addition, the store’s retail staff will encourage showrooming (browsing in a retail location and purchasing online). By using the barcode-scanning app on the John Lewis native app, customers can then choose from more product options, browse customer reviews, and inspiring recommendations for complimentary products. These solutions truly bridge the physical (retail) and digital (ecommerce) worlds for John Lewis customers.

Innovative app additions include a virtual “kitchen drawer” where all of a customer’s John Lewis receipts and guarantees can be easily located, whether from a retail location or online. They also offer an instant price-match refund if you can find a product cheaper somewhere else.

john lewis


One of the global masters of our digital lives is undoubtedly Google. Their business has been built on connecting people with things they want to find, and of course e-commerce is playing an increasingly lucrative part in their growth. Google is embracing the phygital with a number of innovations.

Earlier this year Google launched an ingenious “local inventory” option. When people search for products, Google will list where they can find them nearby. This is a great user-centric solution, driven by the consumers’ immediate desire, and delivering instant value. The shopper finds the most convenient physical retail location nearby, via mobile location technology and the local inventory APIs.


Digital Genius

It’s clear that consumers want to connect with their favorite brands using their mobile devices, and in many cases these interactions would have required an individual at the other end of a screen, or indeed sitting in a call centre. But now Artificial Intelligence (AI) technologies are being deployed to help global brands innovate at scale. Digital Genius provides a service that leverages AI to create genuine opportunities for mass personalization of brand to consumer interactions, via mobile. It’s being used by Unilever to provide Chef Wendy, a personal SMS cooking assistant for Knorr.

Chef Wendy talks to Knorr customers by SMS, provides new recipe ideas, and is even capable of suggesting recipes based on the ingredients that customers already have. The system also creates a unique profile for each customer, continuously learning about his or her individual preferences and dietary requirements. As a result, customers can experience a ‘unique conversation’ as they would with a real human.

1634-511381-Meet KNORRs Chef Wendy

Phygital on the Move

Retailers and technology companies alike are understandably investing in ways to map our lives as consumers by using multiple discreet technologies, and delivering marketing opportunities underpinned by mass personalization. Mobile devices are certainly the unique identifier for a consumer, and act as the invisible glue between our physical and digital lives. But which channels of communicating are best for different mobile scenarios?

At OpenMarket we commissioned eDigital Research to find out which platforms were preferred by shoppers, for a number of use cases. The results show there isn’t a ‘one-size fits all’ solution, but when it comes to time sensitive applications and those when the consumer is ‘on the move’, SMS is the best choice. Not only does it deliver open rates of over 95%, in contrast to email and push notifications, but it is also prioritised by 83% of consumers.

So will phygital pass into the lexicon of formerly annoying buzzwords now used every day, like “selfie” and “phablet”? Part of me shudders at the thought, but on the other hand, my mobile device is how I interface with the brands I love, the media I consume, and all of my social networks, music, emails, and mobile messages. Despite my reservations about certain buzzwords, I suspect we will all be embracing the phygital side of life in the very near future.