Most of us have probably already had a phygital experience while in a theater watching a 3-D film such as Avatar, though we may not realize it. Phygital, for those not in the marketing world, is a compound of physical and digital and is used to describe the blending of a digital experience and a physical one. It helps companies humanize customer experiences by enhancing individuals' emotions, The term is often misused when it is limited to the operational level, such as the implementation of augmented reality, e-commerce, omnichannel, or even videoconference platforms such as Zoom.
Phygital is not a new idea. Since 2013, I have published many scientific articles, editorials, and books on this topic. The term became popular with the recent global pandemic crisis, which accelerated the adoption of different technologies, devices, and platforms to bridge physical places and digital spaces and thus humanize experiences in shopping, education, medical, workout, cooking, etc. I believe that phygital goes beyond omnichannel, cross-channel, and multichannel strategies and combines all of these with other elements to offer holistic customer experiences that allow them to feel enchanted and emotionally engaged. The big mistake is when companies refer to phygital as an omnichannel business approach.
While omnichannel does apply to the retail sector, phygital is an ecosystem that applies to different industries ranging from education, banking and insurance, and airlines to health care, hospitality and restaurants, and entertainment. Also, phygital uses a combination of both physical elements and digital devices, platforms, technologies, extended realities, online platforms, etc., to offer unique interactive experiences that should integrate a continuum in terms of functional (efficiency, economic) and symbolic (emotion, ideology, social) values that customers experience from digital to physical and vice versa. That is why in contrast to omnichannel that connects touchpoint by using digital with the logic of purchase and e-commerce (economic value in distribution), phygital as a holistic approach can be used in communication, marketing, branding, advertising, product innovation, pricing, etc., to provide customers with both emotional and functional values.
Businesses that are not considering phygital in a holistic way and cannot figure out how phygital will fit into their strategies in the next few years should embrace the phygital paradigm by considering these five points in designing customer experiences:
- think human-first by placing the customer at the center of their strategies;
- use the five senses and maximization of sensory in the digital space to enhance consumers engagement;
- share and communicate coherently around the brand's values by enhancing the continuum across different channels;
- understand the accurate and contextualized usages of technology by consumers; and
- create phygital experiences that attract customers to the physical store by focusing on the complementarity of the experiences to be lived and the coherence between channels.
The next time you think about phygital, remember that the phygital transformation is not an IT strategy. It requires a holistic and customer-centric approach. If companies want to embrace phygital thinking, they should consider functional and emotional values to which consumers are attached in the physical space of their consumption experience and translate them into a phygital continuum to see how they evolve before, during, and after the process. The value delivered should remain coherent and consistent throughout the transfer from physical to digital and vice versa.