A few years ago, the practice of visiting a bricks-and-mortar store to examine a product before buying it online at a lower price gave birth to the term “showrooming.” Many retailers thought this change in behavior would lead to the demise of traditional in-store shopping.

Once again, consumer behavior changed as many began to look up products online, but then chose to buy them in a physical store in a practice known as “web-rooming.” Maybe we shouldn’t be too surprised to read predictions that the future of e-commerce is now made of bricks and mortar.

It seems that the demise of traditional stores was somewhat premature. The rise of online banking also prompted many branches across the world to close down, but even this school of thought is now being challenged.

As our reliance on cash fades, there is an increasing belief that it’s time to bring banking into the 21st century. In Canada, there are examples of new branches resembling Apple stores. You are more likely to be greeted by a staff member with an iPad than someone hiding behind a counter.

Complex banking procedures can be frustrating online, and sometimes customers just need to speak to a helpful and knowledgeable human being. The Apple store experience is something many are keen to replicate in an effort to serve customers better and make them feel special by offering expert help.

The omni-channel approach to sales attempts to provide consumers with a seamless shopping utopia across all platforms. It should no longer matter if we are drifting between a mobile phone or telephone, desktop, laptop or tablet computer, or even entering the store. The experience should have brand consistency, as it takes advantage of the way consumers choose to enter the shopping cycle.

The fine line between bricks-and-mortar stores and e-commerce is becoming increasingly blurry. But this is because there shouldn’t even be a line. These two worlds should not be treated as separate; they should naturally complement each other.

The biggest problem faced by shoppers when ordering clothes online is that when they need to return an item, it is often at their expense. This consumer issue represents a golden opportunity to increase sales if retailers would accept the return in-store for free.

Upon returning the item, customers could have a discount offer waiting for them based on the data of their shopping habits. Once in the store, there is even a chance they will increase their spending organically when presented with more options. Incentivizing customers to visit a store to return an item for free is relatively easy to achieve, but many appear unable to grasp the value of the concept.

There is a wealth of technology available that could dramatically revamp the in-store experience. Most people have walked into a store knowing exactly what they want, only to find themselves frustrated and to leave empty handed. An in-store app could offer real benefit and value by guiding shoppers to the exact location of the item they are searching for.

Store managers could even utilize CCTV by analyzing which displays are being ignored by embracing a form of real-time intelligence. Even the humble mannequin could hold a sensor that will determine your age, sex, size and who is with you. This knowledge could be used to provide offers.

Indoor mapping and beacon technology also allow the traditional shopping mall to monitor both footfall and dwell time. There are already examples of malls offering a free cupcake and coffee to people who have been there for more than 90 minutes. This is just one way that mobile apps and free Wi-Fi can open up a real-time communications channel with every shopper.

For too long, retailers have been capturing data without acting on it. Now that sophisticated technology has enabled simple ways to increase the average spend, the time to monetize the change in consumer habits has arrived.

Retailers now have a choice whether to continue being in a protect-and-defend mode and doing things the old way, or to adopt an anticipatory mindset to open up opportunities and dramatically increase profits and customer experiences.

Consumers want a better experience, and retailers that surprise and delight consumers both on and offline will flourish. Consumers expect a seamless experience. We need to stop talking about e-commerce and bricks-and-mortar stores as separate entities in competition with each other. The real challenge we face is understanding how they can complement each other to enhance the customer experience and drive sales.