Event: Omnichannel Futures review
Implementing technology does not translate directly into innovation for retailers and it should instead be regarded as an enabler of innovation within their businesses and a critical element to them developing omnichannel propositions with customers at the heart.
This was the view of Graham Johnston, senior director for omni-channel customer support at Asda, when speaking at the recent The Retail Bulletin Omnichannel Futures 2022 webinar: “Retail has become less personal, more centralised, and with less trust…Is technology the answer? Technology on its own is not innovation, it’s an enabler of innovation. This innovation comes from a recombination of things. An example is the taxi, which when you combine with an app you get Uber.”
Bringing channels together
Such actions are effectively bringing various channels together in a seamless way and giving customers an enjoyable way to move between the channels that have to date largely remained in silos for many businesses. “We have an opportunity to invest in technology to enable our people [at Asda] to be the stars of interactions and to build trust with customers,” says Johnston.
There has certainly been growth in investment in technology and omni-channel as a result of the changes in customer behavior brought about by Covid-19. This has been noticeable at furniture retailer OKA where Jennie Farmer, chief commercial officer of OKA, says: “We saw a move to online and clients buying into new product areas. Now we are seeing people move to an omnichannel model of buying. People will research online, come into store, and then order online. We’ve found a lot of our online sales are from people within five miles of a store.”
To enhance this omnichannel experience OKA has invested in live video chat technology that enables its in-store employees to show online customers the products in the store’s room sets: “It’s not gimmicky, it’s all about the client journey.”
Stores to the fore
The journey across channels has been equally important for Krisi Smith, co-founder of Bird & Blend Tea, who has found a lot of new customers came onboard during Covid-19 through the company’s online channel and the challenge now is to tempt them into the stores so they can experience the brand.
In addition, she says the company will also then better understand this new segment of its customer base: “We’ve doubled down on technology and data to see what [offer] works for these customers. Gone are the days when we could physically test new products at a [physical] market!”
This highlights how Smith is absolutely committed to physical stores. The company opened four units in 2021 and is benefiting from the rise in vacant properties. “We’re looking at relocations as some good units have become available. We’ve been able to get some stores that we’d not have been able to get pre-Covid-19. We’re looking at how we can add value to the high street,” she explains.
Emma Clark, senior brand design manager at Astrid & Miyu, is also finding value on the high street with its use of pop-ups as a way to test out locations for permanent stores: “We ran very successful pop-ups in the US and are now looking for a store there using the same strategy we employed in Germany to determine the sight for a permanent store. We now have much more negotiating power and can use empty units to test and experiment at low cost.”
Adding value to customers
With its stores Astrid & Miyu focuses on being welcoming to customers, and developing a community, rather than all out experiential “with bells and whistles”. “It’s just about adding value,” she says.
Dragorad Knezi, co-founder & CEO of Eyezon, agrees with this thinking as he suggests retailers have too often forgotten about the simple act of storytelling within their stores: “With [the emergence of] digital it became all about data-driven. This was instead of instinct. It went from art to engineering and looking at things as being scalable while the storytelling was forgotten.”
Guy Bosworth, head of operations at Ole & Steen, says storytelling is “fundamental” to his organisation and it blends this with the messaging online. Across the channels he says the key is to constantly deliver the communication. “When you get the hearts and minds piece [of employees] then it’s about making it an everyday thing for the team. You’ve got to get the team to do it with customers every day,” he says.
Tailored experiences online
Creating these rich, personal experiences, tailored to individual shoppers, is possible in-store through the team on the ground whereas online this can be more of a challenge to deliver. Gareth Jones, digital marketing & e-commerce at Pour Moi, says the likes of Spotify have created a culture of customers expecting tailored, relevant content [digitally] and that it is increasingly important for retailers to keep up with these customer expectations.
Pour Moi works with Steve Ledgerwood, chief revenue officer at Findologic, who says delivering on these demands requires a flexible approach to integrating with various technology solutions and adopting an API-driven infrastructure.
“We nowadays want to integrate best-of-breed solutions into the front-end [of retailers’ operations] but there can be some restrictions with various technologies,” he suggests, adding that the API route can help overcome this and ensure retailers can bring in new solutions to solve problems their shoppers have across the customer journey.
His recommendation to retailers is to find out what are the the things that encourage customers to convert and then determine what technologies enable this. Along with this Ledgerwood suggests there has to be a “base layer of testing for everything in order to see where improvements can be made in the customer journey”.
For Nidhima Kohli, founder of My Beauty Matches, the route to delivering a personalised experience akin to Spotify and Netflix is to use artificial intelligence (AI): “It’s hard to do this at scale manually. The only way is to build an AI solution. We don’t use social media as it’s expensive. The main thing we use to personalise the experience for customers is sending tailored emails. The retention rate of our customers is high and we use AI for this. It frees up the team from segmentation and CRM manual processing.”
Before any decisions are made on technology investments and digital transformations Ed Duggan, CFO & commercial director at Fishpools, suggests retailers need to understand their own business and what constitutes the brand elements. “The media and consultants have been pushing mobile-first and suggesting 24-hour delivery looks slow. We’ve seen no loss of customers because of shipping issues. You need to learn what your customers want.”
By Glynn Davis
1.Omnichannel transformation strategy & Changes in consumer behaviour: Watch the recording here.
2.eCommerce innovation – building engaging experiences across a 360 omnichannel ecosystem: Watch the recording here.
3.Instore digital innovation – creating a fully connected experiential store of the future: Watch the recording here.
4.Future leverage of retail omnichannel brand transformation: Watch the recording here.
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