The high street and e-commerce: friends, foes or something in-between?

Given the surge of ecommerce and the collapse of Blockbuster, HMV and Jessops, it seems bricks and mortar shops may eventually disappear.

As technology and delivery mechanisms improve, will we become a nation that stares at a screen, clicking away with a cup of tea?

Online shopping is convenient and simple. The way we research and buy online may be changing, but the High Street can still play a major part in this development.

Technology can enhance and rejuvenate bricks and mortar shopping, creating an interactive and enhanced shopping experience. 

According to Econsultancy’s Multichannel Retail Survey just 14% of people surveyed believe retailers do not need to operate across the various channels; brands need to start promoting their technology and channels effectively, or risk losing profits to those who are.  

The multichannel high street

Technology gives retailers the chance to extend sales reach beyond the store. As consumers look for the easiest, cheapest shopping solutions, retailers must utilise their creative powers of engagement to fend off competition and get people into their stores and onto their website.

By distributing products effectively and making them more accessible across the channels, retailers can make shopping simple, but interactive.

Simply having technology is no longer enough. Marketers need to offer channel-specific offers and promote them successfully. They need to teach consumers how to engage with brands across all channels, resolving potential problems that could lead to abandoned transactions.

This should be analysed and tied in with effective contact and CRM mechanisms so retailers can personalise content to individual consumers in different ways. 

M-commerce

Almost 60% of the UK owns a smartphone, yet according to the IAB only 40% of major brands have an optimised mobile website. 

Websites that aren’t smartphone compatible take longer to load, driving people elsewhere, look at Cath Kidston on mobile for an example of this. Retailers without an m-commerce site can still embrace mobile with optimised information pages showing nearby stores, opening times etc. 

Fashion retailer Pretty Green adopted Mobile Money Networks’ (MMN) Simple Tap payment method after mobile traffic rose more than 300% in under a year.

Once registered, customers can buy items securely with just one simple tap – making them less likely to abandon a transaction halfway through.

SoLoMo

Social media is a powerful influencing tool. Many brands are recognising the combined power of social, local and mobile (SoLoMo), offering free in-store Wi-Fi so customers can ‘check in’, read product reviews, compare prices and find offers before making a purchase. 

Inviting customer interaction generates a buzz around merchandise and, when combined with mobile and local targeting, enhances the High Street experience. Retailers should utilise social media as a clever way to reach Smartphone users with offers and vouchers.

According to TradeDoubler, 32% of Smartphone owners search for vouchers each month, so retailers should target customers with deals before they look elsewhere. 

Vouchercloud and Foursquare use geo-technology to discover customers’ locations and target them with specific local offers which, according to TradeDoubler, almost 60% of people are happy to receive. If customers are given incentives, such as discounts or promotions, when they ‘check in’ to shops on their mobile, store traffic increases and retailers can see linkage from online to offline conversions.

Retailers have access to huge amounts of customer data, but few utilise it. Those that engage with their customers, offering targeted discounts based on purchase history, likes and current location, will thrive.

Retailers who are yet to embrace SoLoMo and are doing nothing to enhance the customer journey are likely to lose sales to their mobile-savvy competitors.

Interactive stores

Although shopping is often regarded as a national pastime, online convenience does threaten the High Street and retailers need to work harder to persuade customers to shop in-store.

Marks and Spencer is one retailer using technology to provide an interactive in-store experience. High-definition screens advertise the latest fashions, sales assistants brandish iPads, whilst creative use of data feeds provides personalised product recommendation.

This is seen in the Virtual Makeover which uses digital imagery to let customers experiment with make-up to find the perfect shades for their complexion. 

Burberry’s Regent Street store also integrates digital technology to create an exciting customer experience. Here too iPads are aplenty and, when approached with an item, the store mirrors transform to show the piece on the catwalk. 

Interactive stores are still quite new and their unusual USPs will help to drive footfall. Although some features are more for show, others have genuine practical uses. Interactive mirrors show customers how they look in several different garments, suggesting matching items and accessories to complete the outfit. 

By combining technology with practicality, retailers will ensure that customers have a reason to visit a store, rather than ordering everything online for convenience.

Online in-store

Although ordering online is convenient, home delivery can actually be inconvenient. A click and collect service lets customers pick up items ordered online from their local store.

According to Econsultancy’s report How the Internet can save the High Street 80% of people surveyed had reserved items online to collect in-store, showing its popularity. Click and collect also gets e-shoppers into stores where they may be tempted by other items, driving incremental sales.

Several retailers have reversed this concept and created an internet café/store. House of Fraser.com stores offer free coffee and access to their online inventory. Clothes can be tried on and purchased online in-store and delivered the following day to the customer’s home or local store. 

In India, Asian Paints use their Colour Store, not to sell, but to educate. Consumers take part in colour workshops, create their own paint shade combinations and receive decorating advice from in-store staff, before purchasing their chosen paint online.

These ‘stores’ are not only useful, but help to enhance brand reputation and customer opinion by promoting themselves as companies that don’t just focus on sales, but are dedicated to excellent customer experience. Consumers also choose a convenient delivery time, rather than having to carry items home.

The future of multichannel retailing

As the internet continues to dominate our lives, the simple High Street retailer needs to evolve and investigate additional channels to boost sales and maintain the customer experience.

When choosing which channels to target, retailers should consider the long-term advantages and benefits of each one. Retailers can now find out not just who their customers are, but also where they are and how to engage with them. All available data should be exploited to get consumer attention.

Customers expect good shopping experiences in-store and online, so with multichannel retail the connections need to be smooth and consistent. According to Hitachi Consulting UK, more than 80% of customers leave stores if products they want are out of stock, therefore it’s essential that merchandise is available online so that sales can still be made even if customers cannot take items home that day. 

Amazon and Tesco remain two of the few retailers that have an integrated desktop and mobile commerce site. Products added to the customer’s basket on a laptop also appear in their basket on a Smartphone, making it easy for people to continue shopping on the move. 

Retailers need to remember that customers expect a good overall experience. Customer service must now range from polite sales assistants, quick response to tweets and a simple online checkout process.

By keeping this in mind, retailers can seamlessly adopt, not just multichannel retailing, but omnichannel retailing.

Extract image credit: Soults Retail View

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The high street and e-commerce: friends, foes or something in-between?

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