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The students' view of multichannel marketing

In a colloboration with Drapers, first-year students from the Winchester School of Art, University of Southampton were asked to explain how fashion brands can adapt to survive in a multichannel environment.

The 3-year BA Hons Fashion Marketing/Management programme at the school prides itself on developing leading creative marketing and management professionals for the fashion industry.

Now in its fourth year, the programme is gaining a strong reputation for delivering the most dynamic graduates with a range of relevant and transferable industry skills; including creative thinking for business, team working and creative presentational skills, says programme leader Amanda Bragg-Mollison. Students on the programme are set to be valuable assets for brands in future years.

After reviewing all the submissions, the team at Drapers agreed that Ben McCaughan was the worthy winner of 1st place, with entries from Constantia Timotheou, Emily Clay and Constanze von Szczepanski being highly commended.

3 Steps to Multichannel: The Truth about Digital

Ben McCaughan

Ben McCaughan

  • Ben McCaughan

Almost every retailer that tries to succeed at multichannel is asking the same question. “How can we incorporate ‘digital’ into the retail experience?” The buzz words are always the same. ‘speak social’, ‘omni-channel’ and ‘mobile first’. Yet no one seems to have the first clue what these really mean, and hardly anyone is getting it right. The real way to incorporate digital into retail?

The Hashtag in your window display? No ones using it. The QR codes? No ones scanning them. Most attempts I’ve seen to bring the digital world into retails stores involve technological gimmicks that swing wide of the needs of consumers.

The truth is, the internet is a completely different ball game. It’s quirky, weird, and socially awkward; with its own culture, and its own rules of engagement. Brick and mortar stores are no longer the proverbial ‘cool kids’, and if retailers want to succeed at multichannel, the question they should be asking is this. Where does the retail experience fit into the digital world?’

The process of conversion for retailers means getting their heads around a few new rules of the playground.

Step 1: Get humble and get smart. The internet is a force and being unto itself. It sees everything and knows everything, and you cannot hide. So make sure you can account for your own actions. A lot of retailers still disregard the power of the internet in damaging sales, and fail to defend themselves appropriately when under fire. If you cannot hold your own, and account for your actions, your business will suffer.

So make a digital footprint that will last your company the test of time.

Step two: hashtags. Understand that they are like waves. You can’t make them or control them, only ride them as they come. And waves don’t exist on dry land. In the same way, Hashtags should not be used as promotional tools, and do not belong outside of twitter. A misplaced hashtag is no better than your dad writing ‘lol’ in your birthday card. My advice? Grab a surfboard, or stick to Facebook.

Thirdly, the digital world is fundamentally about people. And its about Personal, intimate, public conversations. So step 3: Retailers need to learn to start having real conversations with their customers. That means talking as individuals and having real responses to your customers, not operating out of a cooperate phrase book. It also means not referring people to your brands website. Most consumers have already been there, and it didn’t help. Thats why they’ve come to you. So get talking. Consumers appreciate the effort.

Without this foundation, your retail strategy is a house built on sand. But get some strong digital foundations down, and the brick and mortar will take care of itself. Physical stores need to become the accessory to your digital presence. And with the right digital foundation, brick and mortar can then serve to enhance on the experiences offered by digital business, and satisfy the needs that the internet can’t.

Channel The Right Way

Constantia Timotheou

Constantia Timotheou

  • Constantia Timotheou

The continuous evolution within the retail sector sees more and more retailers taking strides towards a multi-channel retail environment. A combination of the development of technology and a new wave of demanding customers who want to shop on their terms have left retailers amidst the need to respond and adapt quickly.

With great opportunities come even tougher challenges, that if not dealt with, can eliminate the opportunities altogether. For retailers considering entering the multi-channel environment, there are obstacles that must be addressed as customers expect to be treated the same on all platforms whether it be in store, online, or on a mobile app. To capitalize on the digital technologies, customer expectations must be met through consistent customer service across all platforms, ensuring impeccable customer experience.

A recent personal experience in a high street store highlighted the importance of embracing technology. The assistants were unable to provide a satisfying service upon an inquiry as to whether or not a particular product was in store due to the fact that they were unaware of the product code. Had the store been equipped with iPads for example, a simple web search would have provided the required information in order to source the product. This technology would have provided them with a superior customer service, yet their lack of assistance has affected my view of the retailer, demonstrating the importance of customer service and in-store technology. Due to the advancing technology of today, consumers expectations are forever changing, thus if the retailers fail to respond and adapt to the customers needs, their once loyal consumer will go looking elsewhere.

When done well, multi channelling can revolutionise your retail business as it ultimately elevates your total revenue and customer base.

Customers are more likely to shop with the same retailer again if their needs are met; therefore if you have a better understanding of the customer and their needs, the customer loyalty is ensured. Not only does it increase customer loyalty, multi- channelling retail also provides a wider platform on which products can be viewed, by both new and existing customers. Through the use of multi channels, the spectrum of customers is broadened, extending the client base. Multi channels allow a retailer to have a global online presence, thus expanding their audience, even without a physical store.

For brands and retailers in the industry to capitalise on the opportunities a multi channel environment provides, the customer must become central to the brand in order for it to prosper. Without a loyal customer a retailer cannot progress in today’s market. This cannot be taken for granted as a customer’s allegiance to a brand can be lost with a click of a finger.

With the customers continuing desire to shop on their own terms, it is essential that retailers adapt with them, mirroring their behaviour as multi- channelling benefits the consumer as well as the retailer.

Multichannel retail: Essential or a risk not worth taking?

Emily Clay

Emily Clay

  • Emily Clay

Time is running out for retailers who are yet to progress into the exciting new world of multichannel retail. This involves targeting customers in multiple ways, for example offering an app, website, and also a shop.

In 2013, 87% of those living in the UK used the internet. One in ten UK households owned multiple tablets, and 87.2 million people in the UK subscribed to mobile phone services.

These statistics will grow rapidly, and brands must be quick to avoid being left behind by more technologically advanced multichannel companies.

I admit it- there are a high number of challenges when entering the vibrant new world of multichannel, including the countless monetary costs of creating a website. Expenditures of website design, development, and photography can rapidly run into the thousands. Once online, retailers still cannot relax thanks to the high risks of e-commerce, for example increased returns due to unsure sizes.

However, the creation of fresh retail channels can help expand the business and profits.

Once online, retailers gain 24/7 opening hours, meaning that the connected global population can shop whenever they like.

Retailers then also have the opportunity to compete in the race for online sales, which would be impossible if only a traditional shop was used. Smaller, independent businesses can also advance using multichannel- Jules B, a designer retailer with just eight shops, has a successful website which accounts for 65% of total sales.

Affiliate routes such as eBay and Amazon are likewise often effective for most. Larger brands, including Office and French Connection, use these channels to gain access to benefits including increased numbers of possible customers. Strategies such as this and social media massively enhance customer experience, in the long term inevitably leading to higher popularity. ASOS seizes these advantages by using Facebook as a retail platform, enabling customers to buy, share, and comment on products without leaving the social network.

The use of mobile applications is also on the rise, meaning another new innovative and exciting way for consumers to shop.

PacSun, an American retailer revolving around the iconic Californian lifestyle, has released an app allowing consumers to purchase clothing, view lookbooks, find the closest store, and scan QR codes to gain discount. Apps are now used for countless reasons in everyday life, and retailers must begin developing these in the near future in order to not get left behind in the multichannel stakes.

In order to capitalise on the assortment of opportunities that this new age of fashion multichannel provides, brands need to act at lightning speed. The public now expects retailers to have a website, and I for one am disappointed when a shop lacks one. Online shopping is the new bricks and mortar, and very soon this is likely to advance to buying through apps on mobiles and tablets. Further afield, this could even result in Google Glass clothes shopping.

Despite the challenges, multichannel retail is clearly a champion due to the vast opportunities provided. The world is technologically evolving faster than ever before, and consumers demand that the fashion retail world do so too. Fashion retailers, you must ask yourselves, can you really afford not to go multichannel?

The rise of the interactive retailer

Constanze von Szczepanski

Constanze von Szczepanski

  • Constanze von Szczepanski

Consumers want a retail environment that fits in neatly with their use of smart devices, social media and emerging technologies. That means that retailers need to step up their game and provide alternative channels through which customers can be involved, and interact with, brands.

The traditional format of the physical store being the focal point of a brand’s interaction with its customers no longer holds true. We are able to access vast amounts of information through our devices, and this can be either an opportunity for, or the downfall of a brand. The opportunities for a savvy forward thinking retailer to interact better with their customers are vast; the future, according to Manhattan Associates lies in “enabling customers to purchase when and where they want”.

For a brand, this means providing several commerce platforms such as mobile, electronic, video and the use of social media such as Facebook and Twitter; as well as the traditional in-store commerce. The challenge is to offer consistency across all platforms, thus enabling customers to experience a brand seamlessly across all channels. Errors or discrepancies will only loose you customers. Transparency is also key - many a brand has met their downfall due to disgruntled customers voicing their opinions on social media, and the information circulating widely and freely available to anyone, including potential customers. Retailers can’t hide information under the proverbial carpet anymore - its time to step up to the plate and behave responsibly.

We are no longer pleased by quick efficient service; we expect it. So what can retailers do too to keep up with the fast paced, ever-involved mobile life of their consumers? By getting smart. By adapting. Implement a multichannel strategy that will pay off long term, and put aside the old-fashioned traditional view of the retail space being the number one contact point with your consumers. The physical retail space is now becoming more and more the place where one goes not to purchase, but to experience and interact with the brand; when we buy something it is predominantly through a website/app/other Internet platform. This information shows us that customers have already made the change to technology-enabled purchasing, and it is now up to the retailer to catch up.

It is a challenge for retailers to keep up the pace, especially those for whom the traditional models have always paid off. Smaller retailers often have the opportunity to be more personal and in touch with their customers via technology, as they have a much smaller field to focus on, than say Marks and Spencer’s. By implementing a multichannel retail strategy, brands have the opportunity to provide a rich interactive element to the shopping experience - which is something that a physical store alone can no longer provide.

The danger here is to focus exclusively on the use of the digital in the retail space, instead of working on a solid strategy and using technology in a smart way to connect with their customers.

Readers' comments (1)

  • Great article Drapers! Four excellent opinions, although Constantia would have had my winning vote!

    It has reminded me why my own apprenticeship was so useful to my career, so I will be contacting Southampton Uni to see how my business could help their programme.

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