Are High Street Stores Now The Weakest Link For Retailers?

As I have often detailed here, omnichannel is here to stay. Customer expectations today demand that the experience they have of a brand is just as good online as offline and however they choose to communicate, the service will be great.

That’s what customers expect today, but for many brands it is still not a reality. This article in eCommerce News about retailers in Sweden shows that for retail brands there it is often the physical store that is ruining the omnichannel experience. High street stores are becoming the weakest link.

A quarter of Swedish shoppers feel that they get a much more personal experience when shopping online, according to a new study.

Can you imagine that statement from a couple of years ago when the personal in-store experience was considered to be the reason why people will keep on returning to real stores.

Customers know that brands know about them and this helps retailers identify what customers like, what they are not interested in, and how to offer timely deals that will encourage more purchases. All this information is easier to gather in the online environment, but now there appears to be a backlash against the way that the real in-store experience differs – because the employees of the store do not know you when you walk in off the street!

Naturally the real in-store experience will always remain the weakest link if customer expectations for personalisation are increasing to the point where customers want to be treated as individuals when they walk into a store.

Building this kind of in-store personalisation can be complex, but it depends on the approach. The UK retailer Mothercare wrapped an online receipt system around all their existing processes – so after a purchase was made if the customer gave their email address for the receipt details then the system could match up their details to previous spending and offer additional deals.

This does rely on personalisation after a purchase though. Facebook offers location-aware technology to retailers so they can be aware of which customers that already “like” their brand are nearby to a store. This can be cross-matched with other demographic information to send offers direct to the phone of the customer.

Utilising a system like this also restricts the brand to only working with customers who are active mobile users of Facebook, but I do think that some kind of “logging in” will become more common when customers enter a store they like – probably using apps available from the retailer.

If a customer is encouraged to let the app know that they are in-store and the retailers makes it attractive enough to do this then not only can the in-store experience be personalised, but the retailer gets even more data on what the customer is interested in.

Most of us have now become used to reading news online to the extent that some major newspapers, like The Independent, no longer even provide a printed edition. The online news experience lets us comment on stories and share articles that are interesting. It is a far richer experience that the traditional consumption on news printed on paper and this kind of paradigm shift is taking place with retailers. The online experience is now so good and personalised to the individual; those shoppers want to feel the same way when they walk in a store.

What do you think about these changing expectations? How will it affect retail on the High Street? You can leave your thoughts or comments below.


What did we learn from Black Friday 2015?

A couple of weeks on from Black Friday in the UK and what have we learned?

 

Well, as predicted in The Drum recently, the omnichannel experience is now more important than ever. Creating a seamless customer experience all year round is more important than discounts on a single day. However, Black Friday was still extremely popular so what happened this year?

 

First, it became clear that the online discounts are becoming more popular than those discounts available in-store. I was watching the TV news and thankfully didn't see the traditional scenes of people fighting over TV sets, which fits with retailers saying this year that the in-store rush has eased. Conversely online shopping was up 36% with £1.1bn spent by online bargain hunters.

 

Contrast this with the midnight store openings. At Boots on Oxford Street only journalists were present. Other stores opening early at five or six in the morning found very few customers prepared to brave the cold weather conditions. Analysts also indicated that the recent terror attacks in Paris could have affected the desire for shoppers to line up in the streets all night, but I think the real reason for this change is just that shoppers have moved online.

 

15 major retail websites crashed on Friday. Big names such as Argos, Tesco, and John Lewis all suffered website issues demonstrating that even with all the planning and expectation, the sheer amount of customers all trying to shop online at the same time on the same day can create a nightmare for the IT team managing these ecommerce platforms.

 

Retail analyst Richard Hyman has suggested that about a quarter of UK retailers ignored Black Friday altogether. He said that next year there may be an adjustment in how stores adjust their opening hours and staffing levels, based on the trend for more shoppers to just engage online.

 

The real question for many retailers will be whether Black Friday is worth the effort and discounting. Asda was
the most public refusal this year, although other major brands such as Next and Jigsaw also ignored it. These retailers have all suggested that they would prefer to spread discounts over the entire holiday shopping season rather than focusing on a single day

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The jury is still out. Black Friday 2015 was an enormous success for online retailers this year, but the message is far more mixed from the High Street. I’m sure it will be taking place again in 2016, but it will be interesting to see how those retailers with both an in-store and online offer manage to promote the event.

 

See how 10 top UK retailers performed on Black Friday

 

 


UK Retail Leads in Omnichannel Adoption

Consulting firm Kurt Salmon recently published their 2015 analysis of the retail omnichannel market in Europe. Being British and focused on omnichannel developments in the UK the most striking results that leap out from the research is that British retailers are far ahead of their European counterparts.

The research focused on four different areas; mobile, online, social, and cross channel. It stated that every company surveyed could improve their cross channel offering, but in the other areas there are clear winners.

The leading companies were Topshop, Wallis, and Miss Selfridge, followed by department stores John Lewis and House of Fraser.  A particularly good result was for the Arcadia group, with Topshop the top brand overall across all metrics.

An interesting observation from the survey was that one area where British stores appear far behind continental Europe is in offering stock checking options on the website. Having the ability to go online and check that an item of stock can be found in a store is a strong driver for customers to visit a store. If they need an item quickly it helps immensely to check stock levels or even having the ability to check stock and then reserve the items.

This is a great example of how the online store can be married to the physical store in a way that makes both online and offline work together. Retailers looking to drive cross channel engagement need to consider exactly how to enable customers to use the right channel at the right time, without an enormous cost of switching.

Given that the weakest area for all companies in this research was support for customers across multiple channels there is still plenty of work to be done. Perhaps by next year, some of these companies can have a much stronger omnichannel offer for their customers.

What do you think about the state of omnichannel adoption in retailers across Europe? Leave a comment here or get in touch via my LinkedIn profile.

 

Image via melenita2012