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Special report:The 5th Annual Retail Bulletin Omni-channel Summit 2014

Thinking about channels instead of simply focusing on the demands of the customer can be detrimental to the development of seamless multi-channel propositions, suggest a growing number of retailers. By Glynn Davis

OMNICHANNEL

Special report:The 5th Annual Retail Bulletin Omni-channel Summit 2014

Thinking about channels instead of simply focusing on the demands of the customer can be detrimental to the development of seamless multi-channel propositions, suggest a growing number of retailers. By Glynn Davis

Speaking at the Retail Bulletin's 5th annual Omni-channel Summit 2014 in London Steve Moore, director of client marketing and proposition within connected world services at Carphone Warehouse, was one of a number of merchants who argued that thinking about individual channels was a mistake.

Put mobile at the core
“Customers trip over the walls of channels. Brands that do well have erased these walls. The more we worry about it the worse it will be,” he says, pointing to a focus on mobile as the way of the future.

With mobile devices increasingly regarded as the primary touch point by customers retailers should arguably look to build their multi-channel capabilities with this at the centre. “People now expect a mobile experience even when they are in-store. These devices give a two-way experience and so we’re building from a mobile first strategy,” says Moore.

He suggests digital retailers think about data and science first, and not the “art of retail”, and multi-channel retailers must adopt this same approach – with mobile devices increasingly sitting at the centre of the interactions. At Carphone Warehouse 20% of sales are online and of these 50% have been non-desktop transactions over the past six months.

Equipping store employees with technology
To address this consumer shift to mobile Carphone Warehouse has equipped all its store employees with tablets, along with a £25 million investment in its in-store Wi-Fi and over £10 million committed to the training of its people to use the new technology.

The core use for the tablets is to give employee access to the retailer’s PinPoint app that is a needs analysis tool, which incorporates a live tariff checker and also sucks in other live data to determine recommendations tailored to each customer.

There is also a customer-focused app Honeybee that provides similar functionality and can be seamlessly linked to PinPoint to ensure the customer’s shopping journey is consistent whether in-store or at home.

Despite the clear advantages of the new technology for in-store employees Moore admits that it has still been a challenge to ensure it is adopted by everybody. “They get used to their old tools and until we remove the tills from the stores then they won’t do everything on the tablets,” he suggests.

Iain MacDonald, multi-channel marketing director at Crew Clothing, recognises this and cites it as one of his company’s three main challenges as it develops its multi-channel capabilities: “How people react to these changes we’re making is very important. There are battles still to be had.”

Single view of stock is vital
Secondly, he lists technical issues and how to gain a single view of the customer as well as a single view of the stock. The latter is essential in order to achieve his aim of optimising the stock return on investment.

Julie Walker, head of online trading at Phase Eight, is also on the case and highlights how – with 400 stores and online as well as a growing international business - there are increasing competing demands on stock.

“Our Oxford Street store and online will get all lines and sizes but the smaller stores won’t. How we get the products to where the customer wants them has been worked on for the past 18 months. It’s not about stores versus e-commerce, it’s about the customer and the stock must be within reach of them,” she explains.

Don’t over-complicate
For MacDonald the third challenge of multi-channel is the investment in the infrastructure and making choices of technology. “The key thing is to try and keep it simple. Lots of agencies will over-complicate things. We’re part of the way through our multi-channel journey and we don’t want to be slaves to the technology. It’s about customers, the products and the brand and not about the channel [and technology],” he says.

Spencer Chapman, programme director for digital multi-channel at The Post Office, has adopted similar thinking: “We’re picking capabilities rather than an IT solution. We’re moving away from proprietary systems whereby the provider has you over a barrel and any software updates take weeks.”

Improving data capture
Selecting technology is just one challenge for The Post Office as it moves to being a more digital organisation. Another aspect that it will have to address is its data capture and how it utilises this information to give a more personalised service to its millions of customers.

In many retailers this could be dramatically improved. MacDonald admits to capturing data on 60% of the retailer’s store transactions but that the process is poor in terms of collecting emails as the focus traditionally has been on collecting postcodes. The new system will address this deficiency.

Mark Lindsay, director of strategic client development at Experian Marketing, reckons less than five per cent of data available to organisations is actually used by their marketing divisions, which suggests a massive missed opportunity for the retail industry.

Ronald van Drunen, global director of e-commerce at Bugaboo International, recognises that in getting to know his customers better the company has to capture data. For a manufacturer selling into retailers and through third-parties the capacity to be able to do this has been missing from the business model.

But the company is addressing this through a strategy of building up its e-commerce operation and - more radically - opening up company-owned stores. “If we only ever sell through other retailers then we’ll never get to know our customers. We need to make changes and be more in control of the customer journey.”

Personal engagement with customers
Armed with customer data from their interactions with the brand across the various touch-points on their journey Bugaboo will be able to engage with them on a more targeted one-to-one basis.

One area of engagement that is developing at pace is Live Chat facilities on websites, with a growing number of retailers providing this facility including DFS. Although it has many benefits Derek Eccleston, commercial director at eDigitalResearch, recommends that some care is taken when using such interactive solutions.

“Retailers need to be careful with live chat. Often it is not triggered in the right places so it is seen as an interruption.” DFS sought to personalise this interaction with images of the call centre agent but again Eccleston warns that retailers must be careful when making such decisions – as it could involve them in things like having to implement a new dress code for the call centre employees: “It’s not as quick a win as you’d think.”

Social media pros and cons
It is a similar story with social media. Matthew Cashmore, digital director at Blackwell’s, says: “It amplifies what you are good at but also what you are bad at. It’s really scary. There is a decision to be made about whether to not engage if you’re not convinced about your product.”

He believes using social media is akin to “absolutely old school marketing” in its personal nature but that it also has the advantage of being visible to many followers. “It is moment-of-delight marketing that can be scaled. You could do a day’s worth of weird [marketing] things in a field and it can then be distributed through social media channels.”

Simon Preece, senior social marketing manager at Sainsbury’s, also values its use and points to social media’s ability to humanise the brand: “Some of the social media team now have cult followings. And it is a great early warning system as issues often appear on social media first.”

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