Back in the day, if you wanted to buy something—a dress, say, or some tomatoes, or a car—you had to go to the mall or the grocery store or the car lot to see, select, purchase, and collect said item. There was the advantage of seeing and touching and trying the goods in question before plunking down the money to buy them, but your choice options also were limited to what the store actually had in stock at any given moment. Those moments were limited too; few stores stayed open all night, for example.

Then came the Internet, which vastly expanded the world of goods that consumers could purchase at 3:00 in the morning, from the comfort of their own homes. With the instant gratification of internet shopping came the delayed gratification of waiting for the U.S. Postal Service or some other logistics provider to show up—a problem exacerbated by recent challenges and slowdowns across both supply chains and shipping services. Nor can consumers always be totally sure what they will be getting (is the color of the pink shirt pictured online more blush, or is it bashful?), so they are forced to learn a lot about various merchants’ return policies.

What’s a customer to do, if they want the advantages of both in-person and online shopping, and don’t relish limited selection, the presence of other people, or long wait times? Insert that “why not both” gif here.

A new model has taken hold, intensified and expanded during the pandemic: hybrid shopping. Hybrid shopping integrates digital and real-world shopping experiences. Often it refers to customers shopping online, then picking up their purchases from a brick-and-mortar store on that same day, but it can include things like self-checkout at a physical store, mobile payments, and grocery delivery services too. Hybrid shopping’s growing popularity over the last couple of years makes sense, for some obvious reasons. Think curbside pickup of your groceries, or no contact purchases from Target that you can select and pay for online, then have placed in your car trunk by a nice person in a red vest—and a mask.

If that doesn’t sound all that exciting, because it’s just totally normal to you now, well, you’re correct in that too. A new report put out by IBM indicates that 27 percent of customers now say the hybrid model is their preferred way to shop, with that number reaching 36 percent among Gen Z consumers. In other words, we have seen the future, and it’s a mix of shopping in person and online—at least until someone invents the next, even better method of getting you the things you want, when and how you want them.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What are the advantages of hybrid shopping models? Are there any downsides?
  2. Do you think hybrid shopping is here to stay?
  3. To whom does hybrid shopping appeal most, and why? Who might feel left out of using this model?

Source: Tom Ryan, “Has a New, Hybrid Shopper Emerged out of the Pandemic?” RetailWire, February 16, 2022; Maghan McDowell, “Hybrid Shopping: Retail’s Big Story this Holiday Season,” Vogue Business, November 9, 2021; Matt A.V. Chaban, “Bits and Mortar: Why Hybrid Shopping Is Happening Everywhere,” IBM.com, June 25, 2021; Zia Muhammad, “Hybrid Shopping May Be the Next Big Trend,” Digital Information World, January 18, 2022; “Retail Industry Reshapes with Hybrid Cloud and AI to Help Meet Shifting Consumer Shopping and Sustainability Preferences,” newsroom.IBM.com, January 13, 2022