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Let's get phygital: the convergence of physical and digital worlds


Binary thinking fooled many into believing there are only ever two choices in life. Last year, we finally stepped away from the age-old debates around working from home vs. in the office. We now accept that we have the luxury of both options and the flexibility to work from anywhere.

We currently live in ambiguous times, and every consumer's perspectives and priorities have changed. Digital has been a critical lifeline in our lives over the last twelve months. But communicating, working, learning, and shopping online has caused fatigue while also heightening all of our senses.

Collectively, we long for the sight, sound, smell, touch, and taste of freedom. But where do we go from here?

An augmented reality experience could never replace visiting a furniture showroom to touch and test a product. But once again, it's no longer a binary choice. The convergence of our physical and virtual worlds has paved the way for a new 'phygital' reality. The hybrid approach provides consumers with the best of online and offline.

The seamless blending between physical and digital consumer experiences means that shoppers no longer need to choose between convenience and a tactile environment. For example, shoppers can visit an Ikea store to sit on a sofa. But they can also see how it will look in their home in an augmented reality-enabled shopping experience. Equally from their home, they can visualize how the furniture will look in their homes.

Retail is entering a new era of extended reality (XR). Virtual changing rooms, AI-powered personal assistants, and magic mirrors are transforming in-store experiences. By merging the physical with the digital, retailers have finally accepted that they work best when they complement each other rather than competing against them.

Phygital learning

The synergy between physical and digital learning is nothing new. If you have ever played Guitar Hero, you will have already experienced a form of phygital learning. Students and teachers now have the flexibility to immediately communicate information and learn from a phone, tablet, or computer. But real-world learning experiences are now being brought to life by mobile technology.

Education has already broken out of the traditional classroom walls and lecture halls.

As we navigate uncharted digital waters, educators are leveraging interactive cloud-connected smart workstations. But in the future, they will also begin building a 360-degree interactive landscape that will transform how our children learn.

Augmented reality and holograms will also eventually allow students to explore content in new and more authentic ways. The convergence of these two worlds will create engaging learning experiences that bring subjects to life by enabling them to see and touch things rather than just staring at a screen.

Phygital banking

The rise of FinTech provided a much-needed digital transformation of the banking industry. Consumers rapidly embraced the convenience of online banking. But the closure of local branches and frustrating automated telephone helplines have left many consumers longing for the human touch. 

Banks are also waking up to the fact that consumers are much more likely to check out a new product or service when they visit the physical premises of their bank rather than receiving an intrusive phone call or message on a Sunday afternoon.

Sometimes, we all just want to talk with someone face-to-face for advice about our finances before we make a decision.

Horror author Stephen King once said, "Sooner or later, everything that is old becomes new again." However, it's not about returning to the pre-online banking days but providing customers with the best of both worlds. Many would prefer the opportunity to speak with a financial expert in a physical environment and sign up for a new financial product online when they have more time at home.

Consumers expect the same seamless customer experiences that they enjoy on services such as Netflix. Banks are now challenged to provide a similar personalized cross-channel interaction online and offline. For these reasons alone, don't be surprised if physical banking makes a long-awaited comeback.

Phygital marketing

After years of endlessly scrolling down our newsfeeds on our smartphones, we have learned to tune out of all forms of online advertising. The phenomenon is often referred to as banner blindness, and the main reason why marketing reports seldom reflect what happens when we ignore marketing messages.

By contrast, turning old fashioned billboards or physical spaces into instagrammable hotspots is proving to be a massive hit with audiences. Pop-up events are becoming a great way to build a buzz about a new product. Before COVID hit, Sonos famously partnered with Google to create a unique audio experience in sound chambers.

The digitizing of physical places is daring to upgrade the customer experience and journey. This hybrid reality also removes the blurred lines as a digital-oriented way of life enables everyone to seamlessly live, work, learn, and shop both in-person and online. It's the convergence of offline and online that is extending our reality, and that can only be an improvement on binary thinking.

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