Today’s shoppers are constantly connected and expect to be able to shop anywhere and everywhere. Shopping no longer means trawling the High Street to find the perfect item, but is a complex journey that not only takes longer, but takes place across a plethora of channels.
A wedding invite arrives in the post, so you browse outfits on your smartphone during your commute and on your computer during your lunch hour. You pop into the shops on your way home to try on a few options and order from your tablet when you get home. You pick up the outfit from your local branch and buy some matching shoes in-store on your way out.
This is a common scenario where a customer journey begins and ends somewhere different. In today’s world where the High Street is threatened by ecommerce, retailers need to offer shoppers a joined up, seamless experience across all available channels.
The customer is now more in charge than ever and omnichannel shoppers are extremely valuable to retailers. They spend more money and shop more often across all channels for convenience. Making up just 18% of consumers, they account for more than 70% of retail spending in the UK.
But how can retailers on the High Street operate at an omnichannel level?
1. A simple and functional cross-channel route to purchase
The digital customer is a tech-savvy shopper who does not buy anything without doing their research. Retailers need to be aware of the various customer routes to purchase and make sure that their products are available in-store and online across desktop and mobile devices so that customers can access them no matter where they are.
Ideally, these should be integrated so that customers can begin a transaction on one device, and complete it on another.
Fashion store Oasis merges their channels to provide their customers with a seamless shopping experience. Store staff have iPads to give customers product advice and to place online orders for them if items are out of stock. This practice is growing in popularity as more than 80% of shoppers will leave stores if the product they want is unavailable – by offering customers easy access to online ordering, the sale is still made in-store.
Oasis also provide online shoppers with a Seek & Send service; if an item is unavailable online, Oasis will source the item from a store and ship it to the customer.
2. A choice of delivery options
It is not just the shopping process that needs to be convenient, but also delivery. Customers do not want to be tied to home delivery, especially if they are not at home all day every day; offering the customer a choice of delivery days and times provides far more flexibility. Fortnum and Mason have teamed up with Parcelforce Worldwide to become the first retailer to offer Sunday delivery for customers who order before 2pm on Saturday.
Newer services like Click and Collect are also proving popular. Customers can order online and then pop into their local store to pick up the item, try it on and even return it without making a separate journey.
Almost 80% of people used some type of Click and Collect service in 2013 and Argos are trialling a scheme where eBay shoppers can collect their purchases in their local Argos store. As well as being convenient for customers, Click & Collect also benefits retailers as shoppers often pick up additional items whilst in store.
3. A High Street presence
Despite the press telling us it is all doom and gloom, having a physical brick-and-mortar store is still a valuable part of retail. Shoppers like to be able to visit a store to see, touch and feel items, especially clothes, cosmetics and larger, more expensive items.
87% of consumers live within a five-mile radius of their local High Street and 38% visit it several times a week, if not daily. Although the High Street’s convenience works in its favour, choice, value and parking availability may drive shoppers to shopping centres further away.
Brick and Mortar retail still counts for more than five times the overall sales value of online, but stores need to be giving shoppers a unique experience. Burberry’s flagship store on Regent Street is a true multimedia experience with surprises hidden around every corner including huge screens and changing room mirrors that flip to show shoppers the item on the catwalk.
While increasing costs of permanent retail premises might deter smaller businesses, pop-up retail shops (like those seen in Box Park) are a cheaper alternative and are on course to contribute £2.1bn to the UK economy.
4. A functional mobile site or app
Mobile is possibly the most important part of omnichannel, as it allows customers to shop whenever and wherever they like. This convenience is gaining popularity and more than 70% of adults now have a smartphone and 31% have used an online wallet.
According to Econsultancy’s November 2013 report on Mobile Marketing and Commerce, 84% of shoppers research on their phones in-store, and 40% of UK shoppers admit to showrooming. If store staff are armed with tablets, they can assist customers with research, persuading them to order online from themselves, rather than a different retailer.
In November 2013, John Lewis published a report showing that 40% of its digital traffic came from mobile devices, showing the steady increase in m-commerce. Mobile technology is also improving the in-store experience for customers, as they can be alerted to available offers using beacon technology.
5. Personalised communication
No matter where customers come from, they like to be kept informed throughout the purchase journey. Confirmation emails and text messages telling the customer what time their item will arrive, are simple ways that retailers can ensure that customers feel ‘in the loop’.
Every customer is unique, so retailers need to treat them as such; although 94% of companies agree that personalisation is crucial for marketing success fewer than half of them are following their own advice. Personalising all marketing messaging makes sure customers feel unique and valued.
It is also important to ask customers to choose their preferred method of communication. Using new beacon technology, retailers can even send customers mobile notifications when they are in-store to show them the latest and most relevant offers and products.
Tesco uses its Clubcard data to send personalised emails (including a recommended shopping list) based on customers’ individual online orders and their in-store purchases – a perfect example of personalisation bridging the gap between offline and online.
So what is the future of retail?
For truly successful omnichannel retailing, brands need to work out a customer’s purchase journey so they know how to target people successfully across every channel, personalising all communication from start to finish so that shoppers feel valued.
Currently, Amazon and Tesco are two of the few retailers that have an integrated mobile and desktop shopping site – for customers who begin shopping during their commute, but wish to complete it on their laptop, this is a crucial part of omnichannel commerce.
Marks and Spencer is another retailer attempting to use technology to provide its customers with a complete omnichannel experience. Customers have access to free Wi-Fi so they can research online in-store, the staff brandish iPads for online delivery and there are QR codes aplenty. There are also interactive counters (also available online) that help customers to choose their ideal make-up, nail varnish or even a whole new look.
As more stores realise the need to connect with customers at an omnichannel level, the traditional High Street shop will cease to exist. However, the High Street itself is likely to flourish, as retailers create a whole new shopping experience for their customers, providing a seamless journey across the various channels.