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Multichannel: Clicks plus bricks

Retailers and brands discuss the best ways to marry technology with physical stores.

Despite the growth of online shopping and discussion from such retail luminaries as Mary Portas, Bill Grimsey and Next chief executive Lord Wolfson on how to address the retail woes of the high street, the overriding theme at Drapers’ multichannel round table was that the physical store is still integral to the retail experience.

The merits of marrying technology with bricks-and-mortar stores were discussed by delegates from retailers including Phase Eight, White Stuff and Browns at the event on September 5 at London’s Haymarket Hotel, in association with VoucherCodes.co.uk, ecommerce and website design agency Redfish Group, retail software specialist K3 and logistics firm Clipper Logistics.

Retailers and brands all agreed on the benefit of having a plethora of different touchpoints for consumers. Gabrielle Hase, head of ecommerce at lifestyle retailer White Stuff, said: “There is pressure on the pure-plays because people like to interact with brands in every way and the whole concept of showrooming is not such a bad thing. As long as your product is different and the experience is what people want then bring it on.”

Amanda Carr, chief executive of The Women’s Room blog, said: “The more channels a retailer has, whether it be Pinterest, mobile commerce or wi-fi in store, each one enables the consumer to be constantly with you. What you end up with is someone who is sticking with you and jumping from the site, to the mobile site and to the shop, and so you get a loyal customer.”

As a result of the increasing role technology is playing in shoppers’ buying journeys, businesses are engaging with customers across a variety of platforms and in turn are placing iPads into stores.

Womenswear retailer Phase Eight has introduced iPads into all of its branches and is also set to launch click-and-collect by the end of September. Head of online training Julie Walker said: “Not all of our stores get a full range of product and it means the stores can offer the customer, there and then, the ability to order the product they want. As long as the technology is there for a reason rather than for a gimmick then it’s going to work.”

Other retailers including designer mini-chain Browns and womenswear retailer East have also used iPads in stores.

However, K3 business development director Tony Bryant questioned whether the injection of technology could negatively affect availability of stock.

“What I don’t want to see is a shift away from strong availability and the availability of product down at store level to then start to disappear because we’ve got other technologies [on the shopfloor]. Retailers shouldn’t be saying, ‘yes, we can get it for you,’ when the item should be there in the first place,” he said. “We’ve got to make sure that we don’t downturn our stock availability [in store] just because we’ve got the garment somewhere [such as online].”

Paul Strzelecki, joint chief executive of lifestyle brand Henri Lloyd, agreed that in-store technology must meet a need such as checking stock levels or showing consumers images or videos. He said: “I don’t particularly want people to come into one of our stores and spend their time playing around on a screen. I want our staff to interact with them and give them that experience.”

Technological devices were a hot topic at the breakfast round table, as delegates agreed that mobile phones hold huge potential.

VoucherCodes.co.uk senior director of sales Marina McKeever said mobiles should be used to help drive people into stores and not necessarily as a way of increasing sales. “We all have one in our pockets and VoucherCodes.co.uk receives almost as much traffic to our site from mobile devices as it does through desktop computers,” she said. “The growth of mobile has been huge and retailers need to think about how to harness their power.”

Mobile-optimised sites are also of the upmost importance, explained Giulio Montemagno, senior vice-president at RetailMeNot, Inc, representing VoucherCodes.co.uk. “Earlier this year we optimised VoucherCodes.co.uk using responsive web design and have since seen a significant increase in conversion through smartphones,” he said. “This has remained at a very high level for retailers with mobile optimised websites but, in comparison, we’re seeing far lower conversion rates for those retailers without an optimised site.”

Email is one of the most useful marketing tools as it is low cost and has a wide-ranging reach. But attendees sounded a note of caution that retailers and brands must carefully consider the frequency of emails and the promotions featured on them.

White Stuff’s Hase said: “You see a lot more traffic to the site on a mobile handheld device, and it’s driven by email.

It’s because people are opening their emails on their mobile device, using it to go into store and reference product. The biggest thing that retailers need to do is make sure that the mobile-optimised site has a store locator placed front and centre. For so many it is still way down the bottom of the website.”

Mobile internet sits hand in hand with social media, as many consumers tweet and use Instagram as they shop. SJ Thomson, social media and online marketing co-ordinator at denim brand MiH Jeans, said: “It’s about engagement and quality of followers over quantity of followers. We want a certain type of follower, not a certain number.”

Browns chief executive Simon Burstein added: “If you deliver the right content, whether it be on the web, mobile or social media, you are going to build an allegiance with the customer.”

Another key topic of conversation was how the world of multichannel has changed the way delivery and fulfilment operates. Next-day delivery, click-and-collect and buying online and returning in store are all now expected by consumers, so retailers are keen to have them in place so as to not disappoint.

Clipper Logistics managing director Tony Mannix said the firm works with a lot of supermarkets, which have seen positives from the growth of click-and-collect. “One benefit is the product getting to the store through a network that exists and the parcel carriage bill is reducing,” he said. “You can offer the click-and-collect service to the customer for free or at a lower cost, you can have it delivered to the store via the usual retail network, in some cases next day and, as the supermarkets have found, customers on average spend an extra £10 when they come in to pick it up. The added benefit being direct contact with the customer in your store, which builds loyalty and makes handling returns easier.”

Although it is difficult to harness consumer data from customers in store, click-and-collect allows retailers to capture valuable information. But Mannix said the issue of returns is “colossal”. “You have to process the return effectively in 24 hours,” he said. “If you don’t the customer will probably destroy you on Facebook and Twitter because they’ve not got their cash back, and equally importantly, your inventory is not in free circulation.”

It appears that no matter their size, all retailers are still attempting to negotiate the choppy waters of retail in an ever-evolving digital horizon. However, driving an omnichannel experience through click-and-collect means the store is once again the focal point.

“The store is still king,” said Redfish managing director Mike Anderson. “Consumers are increasingly researching online or through their mobile, but given the importance of clothing fit and ‘how I look’, aside from the pleasure of in-store shopping, purchase in store remains the preference for many consumers.

“This consumer dynamic of ‘research prior to purchase’ is here to stay and therefore the implications for retailers are twofold - the online research experience needs to be really engaging and the portfolio and quality of product in store has to be compelling if the retailer is to take the sale from its competition.”

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