It’s no secret that digital sales are devouring the traditional brick-and-mortar marketplace. In fact, 2019 marked the first year in history that online retail beat out in-store sales, claiming a total of 12 percent of all transactions worldwide.

In light of facts like this, we shouldn’t be surprised to see retailers from J. C. Penney to Party City announcing massive store closures. Traditional retail, it seems, is dying a not-so-slow death.

Yet if that’s true, how do we account for the fact that total brick-and-mortar sales are actually rising — recently cracking the $3 billion mark? What’s the magic ingredient that’s kept some brick-and-mortar retailers not only alive, but thriving in the face of digital disruption?

That key ingredient is an emphasis on creating a single seamless experience — a journey spans both in-store and digital channels. And when it comes to fostering that experience, it turns out that personalized email remains the most effective channel — period.

It’s nearly impossible to predict in advance where — or when — a specific conversion will happen.

As marketers, we talk far too much about “the customer journey” as if it’s some kind of predefined path we can map out in advance. The truth, of course, is far more complex: every customer follows their own unique journey — and that journey can turn on a dime as life circumstances drive customers’ tastes and aspirations in new directions.

For similar reasons, it’s all but impossible to predict exactly where or when a given customer will decide to make a purchase — or what exact combination of messaging, channels and timing will drive any given purchase decision.

Take, for instance, a shopper who notices an eye-catching dress in your window display. She snaps a photo and scans a QR code in the display — which automatically subscribes her to your email list. Days later, she receives a personalized email featuring the dress she loved — and that’s where she finally makes the purchase.

Now, which channel drove this shopper’s purchase decision? In one sense, the obvious answer is email — but it’s equally correct to say that your in-store display drove an email subscription, which enabled you to send the personalized message that closed the sale.

A multi-channel journey like this can rarely be mapped out in advance — but with the right tools, you can ensure your brand is there at the moments that matter most.

In-store experiences often drive digital purchases — when you handle the hand-off seamlessly.

For many customers, there’s just no substitute for an in-store experience. Swapping links on social media doesn’t provide the rich social adventure of a shopping trip with friends — nor can a website deliver those magical moments of discovery that happen when we drop into a store we wouldn’t normally visit.

Whether a personalized email drives a customer to check out your latest sale, or an in-store product sighting drives an email signup, email can — and often does — work together seamlessly with in-store marketing. It all boils down to how seamlessly you handle the hand-off from one channel to the other.

Let’s take a closer look at our dress-shopping customer — specifically, at the moment she first notices the dress in your window display. That moment can go one of two ways: the customer might simply think, “Oh, cute dress,” snap a photo, and forget about it. Or, if you’re equipped to meet her in that moment, it can serve as the kickoff for an entire personalized journey.

Once you’ve captured that customer’s attention, the next step is to keep serving up magical moments, with an email campaign that helps her discover new product she hadn’t even realized she wanted yet. And to do that, you’ve got to take a step beyond the same old reinforcement marketing.

Machine learning personalization software can craft a unique email diet to match every customer’s journey.

Even as new digital channels appear left and right, email remains the single most powerful driver of sales. Serve up a gourmet email diet, and you can reap that famous 38:1 ROI everyone’s talking about. Deliver yet another boring campaign, on the other hand, and you might as well never have invested in the first place.

Delivering the right email diet to every customer is far too complex a task to handle manually. That’s why many retailers continue to rely on outdated reinforcement algorithms, which just blast out product recommendations based on customers’ past purchases. As a result, these retailers are losing sales — both in-store and online.

But with the help of an automated personalization solution, you’ll always be one step ahead of every customer, helping them discover new products they hadn’t even realized they wanted — and offering up perfectly timed reminders about items they’d been eyeing.

Stay ahead of your customers’ aspirations, and you’ll always be there for the moments that matter — whether those moments happen in-store, online, or on any other channel.