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IRX 2015 INTERVIEW Mark Steel of Argos on connecting channels

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IRX 2015 INTERVIEW Mark Steel of Argos on connecting channels
IRX 2015 INTERVIEW Mark Steel of Argos on connecting channels
Ahead of this year's Internet Retailing Expo (IRX 2015) we've interviewed leading retailers who are speaking at the conference. Today's final interview in the series is with Mark Steel, digital operations director at Argos .

Internet Retailing: At IRX 2015, you're speaking on developing a cross-channel customer experience. If you could only give one piece of advice to retailers looking to improve their customers' experience, what would it be?

Mark Steel, digital operations director, Argos: Retailers out there right now are doing some really fantastic things and developing some really great experiences for customers across all channels. It's a really exciting time to be in retail at the moment and our approach at Argos, and it's a key point of what I'm going to be talking about tomorrow, is really continually putting customers at the heart of the experience. That's the key point in connecting channels.

My view is that customers don't really think about channels, they just want to shop, and they just want to shop in the easiest, most enjoyable way possible. Whether that's by visiting stores, browsing a website or using a mobile in front of the TV – my preference – customers just want to shop, they don't think about channels and therefore I think that's what retailers need to do.

My advice would be: really think about shopping; put yourself in the shoes of customers, and rather than thinking about channels in isolation just think about building the best shopping experience you can. In particular, think about really trying to please the customers you're targeting. Whether that's through one channel or multiple channels doesn't really matter too much in my opinion, it's just about creating a great shopping experience, and about making sure you put customers first.

IR: Tell us how Argos went about connecting customers' experience across channels, and about the challenges and benefits?

MS: It's worth saying we have a huge and fantastic heritage of connecting customer experiences. It's something we've been doing throughout our journey as a retailer and something we continue to do right now. If you think about for example our iconic Argos catalogue, and about the role that plays in many of our customers' lives, it's a really great example of connecting channels because the catalogue allows customers to browse at home, at work, with friends, or wherever they happen to be at that moment in time. Then they can shop in store, online, or through our mobile and tablet apps.

Argos is a business with a long track record of connecting channels for customers. Thinking about connecting channels too, we were the first to introduce click and collect – or check and reserve, as we call it. Even now our service there stands apart from many other retailers, by having that real-time view of inventory at an individual store level. Customers can reserve from Argos and collect it immediately, there's no wait or delay, unlike some other retailers, and our mobile apps are making that even easier. I think it's something we've been doing for some time and connecting channels is a real constant focus. But crucially, not just for the sake of it, but really about customers first and only, and always, when there's a real benefit for customers.

Another great example is how we're trying to use new technology, trying to bring some of the benefits of online and offline shopping together for customers. Something I'll be talking about tomorrow is Argos Scan - the augmented reality service where customers browsing our paper catalogue can get access to digital content, games and competitions, just by using our app. There's some really exciting stuff coming from Argos at the moment. It's a really exciting time to be thinking about channels and how we create the best experience for our customers.

IR: In your view, what's the most important upcoming trend in multichannel/ecommerce that is set to change the way we shop - and sell. Why do you think this is so important?

MS: I think it's mobile. The rise of the smartphone for me is the most important trend. It's not a new one – it's something customers have been using, and retailers have been thinking about, for some time. It's absolutely the priority for retailers to be thinking about, and thinking about how smartphones are allowing customers to shop in new ways. I think that's the key for me. Over and above the traditional routes that were available to customers, smartphones and tablets just provided so many opportunities for customers to shop with retailers and so much choice for customers. I don't think smartphone penetration can do anything other than grow. More and more customers are choosing to shop via mobile. It's already huge for us at Argos. If I think about our Christmas period in 2014, mobile accounted for 28% of our total sales.

Specifically I think mobile's really important for a couple of reasons. I think firstly about how retailers just design a great experience for mobile. I know it sounds really obvious and simple but it's not that easy and I think it's something that retailers really need to think carefully about. How can you create a best experience for customers shopping on a mobile, whether that be via the web or an app? It's crucial because customers' expectations are growing in that space. It's not something that's standing still. As more and more people have smartphones and are prepared to shop on smartphones, retailers need to improve their offer, and their service.

Secondly, it's based on the new possibilities that mobile opens up. I think that's a really exciting space, and something we've spent some time thinking about at Argos. How can you use the technology that smartphones and tablets offer to create new ways for customers to shop and to choose Argos as a retailer. For example, we spent some time thinking about this ahead of the Christmas season. Christmas is incredibly important to Argos and we wanted to make sure that we had a really winning proposition for customers. This led to us creating a dedicated digital gift finder, on mobile, that allows customers to get gift-giving inspiration for their loved ones, for their friends and family, in a really smart way. By having all that access to all those gift products in their pocket in their smartphone. That's something else I'm going to be talking about tomorrow in a bit more detail.

IR: What are you most looking forward to at IRX (beyond your own presentation)?

MS: There's so much going on - it's such a wide-ranging event. I'm looking forward to immersing myself in all the content, particularly mobile in multichannel - which you'd expect given what I've just said. That track's going to be really exciting. Just meeting some like-minded people as well. There are so many exciting things going on in retail and in digital at the moment. The chance to spend a couple of days outside the office, getting some perspective and talking to some people doing some really cool and exciting stuff is one that's not to be missed.

Mark Steel's presentation, Transcending channels for a more connected customer experience, will be at 3.20pm tomorrow (March 25) in the Insight and Experience Conference at IRX 2015. Visit internetretailingexpo.com to find out more about the event and to register for free.
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