Guest Blog by Tony Westwater, Head of IT, Fraser Group
How to create a seamless single-channel experience?
Since the Covid-19 pandemic began exerting its pressures on the world economy, businesses worldwide and across industries have had to rapidly adapt to unprecedented circumstances. Some have been more fortunate than others. Those in a position to switch to an eCommerce-based approach have been able to take advantage of the dramatic shift in consumer behaviour that the pandemic has accelerated.
With non-essential shops now reopening, businesses must not cast aside the lessons of the last year and revert to the old way of doing things. Instead of returning to the old paradigm, where eCommerce and brick and mortar stores operate as two entirely separate channels, retailers should be thinking about how they can link them together for a single-channel approach.
If retailers can offer the same level of convenience their customers have grown used to from their eCommerce offerings and bring it in-store, they can recapture some of the footfall lost to online shopping.
When customers have to choose between the in-store experience or the online experience, businesses can sometimes end up in competition with themselves. Instead, by replicating the benefits of the eCommerce experience in brick-and-mortar stores, retailers can create a seamless single-channel experience. So, what do I mean by single-channel experience?
Crucially retailers need to think ‘one channel’ rather than ‘multi-channel’ and ensure the standards of their in-store experience match their online conveniences.
Bring online conveniences in-store
There have always been two areas where brick and mortar stores have struggled to compete with their online counterparts: price and convenience. Websites simply don’t have the same overheads that physical outlets do. To ensure eCommerce operations are competitive, businesses have to offer lower prices online. Unfortunately, this creates a division between the online and offline channels.
However, if retailers can offer the same level of convenience in-store as online, for example, same-day delivery if their size is out of stock, the two channels can once again merge. When shopping online, customers enjoy access to special offers and promotions, price checking, product comparisons and reviews, and delivery options. These are all things that can easily offered in-store.
By adding these conveniences to the benefits of shopping in-store, human contact, advice from the sales staff, and a more social experience, retailers create an entirely new value proposition for their customers.
Build your in-store content
Ecommerce websites enable users to filter their searches and compare products to ensure their purchases align with their lifestyle choices. That might mean only buying ethically sourced products, or it could be boycotting entire brands. Replicating this in-store requires a multi-pronged approach, but the potential benefits are enormous.
Using a combination of in-store demos, displays, and knowledgeable sales staff to arm customers with the information they want while showing them that the business supports their lifestyle choices will strengthen their loyalty.
Bringing the benefits of the eCommerce experience into brick-and-mortar outlets is much easier now that everyone carries a smartphone with them. For example, with simple QR codes on your in-store displays, you can enable customers to scan them and instantly load the relevant webpage on their phones, granting customer access to the eCommerce features they crave
Personalise the in-store experience and tailor to suit multiple customer’s needs
Every salesperson working in retail today has had the experience of giving customers their time and expertise to make a sale, only to have them walk out of the store and order the product online. Of course, there’s no way you can prevent people from doing this. But if you provide them with the best possible retail experience from start to finish, they will be much more inclined to give you, their business.
To achieve this, businesses need to personalise and tailor their customer experience. But not every customer is the same. Ultimately the ‘best possible retail experience’ will differ from person to person. For example, some people are shopping quickly during their lunch break; they want to be in and out as quickly as possible. Other customers want a full service, including advice from the sales staff. They will take as long as they need to ensure they’re making the right decision.
Retailers need to know how to accommodate these and every other type of customer needs. People come in-store for a reason. Even if they enter the store intending to make their purchase online, there’s a reason they have come to the store first. If sales staff can identify why the customer sees value in the in-store experience, they can tailor their approach accordingly. They might even convince the customer to make their purchase in-store there and then, increasing the likelihood of them returning.
Post-lock down retail
Thanks to the pandemic and the growth of eCommerce, consumers today are often impatient. If the product they want isn’t available right then and there, they will look elsewhere. This applies both online and offline. But a good salesperson can often turn that around. If you don’t have what the customer wants in stock, sales staff should always offer to order it in for them.
For big purchases that need someone home to sign for them when they’re delivered, it is often more convenient for the customer to have it delivered to the retailer’s store for them to collect later. Remember, your online and offline offerings are part of the same unified channel.
Many major multichannel retailers have already announced a renewed emphasis on in-store services when they reopen. For example, Ikea will continue to offer online appointments for planning kitchens while adding screens to make their in-store planning services covid-safe. John Lewis is also planning to resume its children’s shoe fitting service and reopen its changing rooms.
Meanwhile, here at the Fraser Group, we are planning to have staff with mobile payment terminals which can take payments from customers on the shop floor without the need for long queues. By bringing the payment directly to the customer, we are hoping it will make their purchase journey as seamless as possible and they can spend more time browsing in-store.
The days of multichannel retailing are over. Businesses need to start thinking about how they will unify their different channels into a single channel that brings the best aspects of the eCommerce experience in-store.
About the author
Tony Westwater works for one of our clients, the Fraser Group as their Head of IT. Frasers Group started as a small store in Maidenhead in 1982 and from there, grew to become a global powerhouse. They are now a collection of the world’s most iconic brands including Sports Direct, House of Fraser, Flannels, GAME, Jack Wills, Sofa.com, Evans Cycles, USC, and Everlast.