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One goal, different paths

The customer experience was the subject of our latest roundtable debate.

Multichannel can be a tricky environment to navigate. Retailers and brands must consider the overall online user and in-store visitor experience, how they will capture consumer data for personalisation and devise a relevant social strategy. The questions they must ask themselves are many. Are they optimised for mobile? Do they have an app? What about integrating in-store technology?

To gain greater insight into the factors at play Drapers polled a nationally representative pool of 2,000 UK consumers to find out how they shop across retail channels. Ecommerce specialists from retailers such as Harvey Nichols, Oliver Spencer and Bonmarché then gathered at the Ham Yard Hotel in London to discuss the results.

Organised in association with ecommerce agency Ampersand, logistics provider DHL Supply Chain, retail software provider K3 Retail and promotional offers website, the roundtable covered every aspect of the multichannel experience from mobile and tablet to personalisation and consumer engagement in the social sphere.

The session kicked off with a discussion of online shopping habits. Our survey found that more than 40% of shoppers buy fashion online once a month, and it is the method most popular with younger consumers. When it comes to shopping in this channel, simple functions such as clear sizing information (55.7%) and lots of product (47.1%) were named as top priorities.

By comparison, 40.6% of respondents do not want to see any editorial content on a fashion retail website, with 28.4% saying such content does not encourage them to stay longer on the site.

“Editorial content should be a nice surprise for consumers and you might get some great engagement, but don’t make it your number one priority,” stressed Alex Field, global head of marketing at Thomas Pink.

Laptops were the preferred device to browse and buy fashion online at 64.5%, followed by a desktop PC (48%), tablet (26.8%) and mobile (17.7%). The low level of mobile engagement surprised Darryl Adie, founder of Ampersand. “For some of our customers more than 50% of traffic comes from mobile. Perhaps these statistics are a reflection of people still being uncomfortable with mobile or that uptake is different across different retail sectors?”

Consumers were most likely to use mobiles to browse or buy fashion in the evenings (26.4%), with Sundays (23.3%) the next most popular time. general manager Claire Davenport reported on the success of the company’s new “save for later function”, which is typically used to browse in the morning and purchase later on.

According to Davenport, about half of online traffic comes from mobile and tablet combined. “Buying fashion on tablets has grown less strongly than mobile over the past year. In the fashion sector two retailers with the same sales conversion on a desktop can have a variation of 1,000% in how they convert on mobile. There is a lot of variation between very mobile-optimised and non mobile-optimised sites,” she added.

Barriers to mobile shopping are primarily security concerns (46%) and smaller screen size (43.8%). Jonathan Pilbro, vice president of fashion at DHL Supply Chain, argued that worries over the safety of public Wi-Fi can make people less likely to make mobile payments. PayPal was suggested as a solution to security worries by Mark Mearns, ecommerce and multichannel director at DHL Retail, as all the card details are stored so there is no need to input personal information on the move.

The survey found more than 67% of respondents had never downloaded a fashion retail app, with just 18.3% having downloaded up to three. This came as no surprise to Marina McKeever, senior director at, who argued that apps must offer a genuine benefit not found on an etail site.
The discussion then moved on to the in-store experience. More than 73% of respondents do not want to use technology in store. However, if technology is present then kiosks are most in demand at 34.4%, while staff with iPads are also popular. Simone Williams, head of ecommerce at womenswear chain East, reported a huge uptake of iPads in store.

In terms of service, personal shopping (33.3%), combined with the ability to try clothes on in store and buy online (30.1%) were key reasons to hit the high street. Simon Burstein, chief executive of London luxury independent Browns, argued that customers entering an upmarket store are looking for an experience only made possible through engagement with salespeople. “Sometimes technology can be a distraction,” he said. “Don’t distract, engage. You have the product in front of you, so sell what you’ve got.”

When it came to social channels, Facebook was the most important social network at 75.9%, followed by Twitter (29.2%) and Instagram (12.1%).Unsurprisingly, younger consumers were most influenced by social media.

The power of Facebook was highlighted by Domenico Antonucci, sector manager of fashion solutions at K3 Retail, who reported on the massive response enjoyed by a Nordic retailer which pushed its marketing budget into getting “likes” on Facebook, though he declined to name the retailer. The company found that more than 83% of its online visitors were female, information which prompted it to focus the home page on womenswear.

When using social media, consumers most want to see information on when a Sale will start (50.1%), followed by product updates (42.9%). Just 9.4%cited video as an attraction. Field wasn’t surprised: “We thought some good video on social media would help drive engagement. It doesn’t. It’s often the most boring pictures that get the biggest reaction. Your biggest fans really want to see your product in detail.”

McKeever advised reaching out to bloggers as part of a holistic social strategy and stressed the importance of getting the experience right in the online channel, as customers can be vocal on social media when things go wrong.

Personalisation proved an emotive topic, with 37% of those surveyed responding negatively to such requests. Consumers were least happy to give social log-in details, work phone numbers and bank details.

More than 50% said personalisation would not encourage them to buy more, a statistic that did not surprise Robert Cavell-Clarke, head of scouting and design relations at online designer platform Not Just a Label. “We [the industry] are styling our customers with an algorithm, but they keep telling you just to buy white Converse and stonewash jeans. People will get sick of it. Curation should be done by a person.”

Jack Wills global ecommerce director Jan Mehmet agreed the concept of complete personalisation still needs work. “On a one-to-one basis we can find out exactly what that customer needs, but in the digital sphere we are still guessing.”

‘We are styling our customers on algorithms. People will get sick of it. Curation should be done by a person’Robert Cavell-Clarke, head of scouting and design relations, Not Just a Label

When consumers were asked which delivery methods they have used, next-day came out top (52.8%), followed by click-and-collect (49.3%). Free delivery (81.1%), free returns (62.5%) and quick delivery (37.4%) were cited as the most important factors.

The statistics resonated with Pam Reynolds, online site manager at Harvey Nichols, who reported on the success of click-and-collect at the business. She said its click-and-try service, whereby a chosen item is placed in a changing room styled with other accessories, is also popular.

Bonmarché marketing and multichannel director Sean Emmett backed click-and-collect as a means of reducing returns, as it brings the consumer back in store and offers a better chance of exchange or upselling.

Interestingly, our survey showed that pretty packaging isn’t important for home delivery or in-store collection. However, Mearns said: “We find packaging quite emotive. We fulfil for a value retailer, which has scaled down the weight of its plastic to lower overall costs, as well as a top-end department store who wants to create a fully branded experience.”

Despite all the technology on offer, a real desire for excellent customer service is clear. The focus is on understanding the consumer and the part each channel, device or platform has to play in the overall purchase journey, with a view to delighting them with a great experience.

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