Companies, take note: not online or offline, but fastline is what consumers need you to be

The Dutch street scene is more confusing than it’s ever been. The shops you’ll come across now on your shopping trip are not the familiar retail chains like Schoenenreus, V&D, Polare and the Free Record Shop, but stores like Coolblue and Apple which you could only visit online until recently.

In Amsterdam’s biggest shopping street, the Kalverstraat, you can still see the remains of the late V&D: their black logo still clings to the façade, a remnant of a now bankrupt company that was once a big name of nation-wide renown. It’s not badly missed; the shopping crowds pass the giant’s cadaver without even looking at it, and in a few months it’ll be forgotten. And that’s understandable — what did V&D have to offer that you couldn’t get in a hundred other places around town and online?

Meanwhile, the atmosphere at the new stars of the shopping street is very inviting. In the Coolblue store, you’re treated to a cup of coffee while you wait and try out the latest tablet computer. The Apple Store is bustling with activity and teeming with people, liveliness and sales every weekday. On an average Saturday afternoon, it can get so crowded that you might not even be able to get in at all. There are workshops, there’s plenty of friendly and knowledgeable staff, and when you walk in, there’s no front desk blocking your way where you’re supposed to pay for your products. Apple and Coolblue’s stores spare no expense to serve their customers’ every wish.

That’s the grand challenge facing many companies. Companies from the ‘old’ economy are trying to conquer the digital shopping street, while it’s becoming common for the online ones to try to cross over to the physical world. How can we gain more publicity and sales online? How can we keep people visiting our physical stores while ordering things online is becoming more and more common? Online and offline as opposites, as enemies.

But consumers are much less concerned with ‘offline or online’ than companies think. When choosing a product or service, they’re looking for three things: speed, convenience and an experience. Preferably all three at once. Whichever company does that best gets the customers. That explains why the Apple store is more like a kind of ‘gadget museum meets hipster candy store’ than like a traditional shop, and why Coolblue puts silly text on the boxes they send out their online purchases in. Consumers will choose the smoothest and most fun shopping experience.

This is exactly why a distinction between online and offline just isn’t relevant any more. It’s all about the customer’s needs, and finding the quickest, easiest and most fun way to meet those, regardless of whether it’s in the digital or the physical world. Consumers will no longer do things your way, in your shop, at your pace. No more getting in line for an unfriendly sales employee in an unpleasant store. These days, they’re the ones in charge.

Companies who have mastered the fastline approach make sure they’re always informed about their target demographics’ needs and the most commonly used ways to meet those needs, which is radically different from the company-centric approach we would traditionally see in the business world. Fastline is a result of a shift in power towards the consumer. The consumer will decide for themselves what they want. And what they want isn’t online or offline; it’s fastline.

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