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GUEST COMMENT A mixed bag: can the store drive more online conversions?

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As the concept of omnichannel retailing has matured, it has generated a lot of discussion around how bricks-and-mortar can support and mimic the capabilities of online activity. This has, in turn, changed traditional retailers’ strategic position, and how overall success is judged.

Many retailers now realise the importance of bricks-and-mortar sites as a brand engagement vehicle, customer support point, and a research, discovery and validation point for shoppers. Today, the store presents so much more than a transactional hub. So, how can retailers ensure that this critical touchpoint is working to its full potential and assists in driving direct conversions?

The simple fact that so many shoppers are researching online means they are going to know a fair bit about the product they’re after before even stepping inside a store. This means that front-line staff need to be more sophisticated in their customer engagement techniques, while having greater product knowledge than ever before. For example, PWC found in a recent survey that a sales assistant’s product knowledge was rated as the number one factor that could help make the in-store experience better – and the better the in-store experience, the more likely a sale will be made.

Technology can certainly assist here. Staff who can easily access detailed product information, video demonstrations, previous customer reviews and even social media feedback via a mobile device can help make the urge to buy that bit more compelling. In addition, stores will see an increase in conversions if customer loyalty could be recognised and rewarded, and offers could be personalised around customer purchase history and interests, making the customer feel valued.

Such techniques are proven to increase conversion rates and many are already being adopted by retailers. However, there is another aspect to driving online sales in-store which has yet go mainstream – and it could prove very powerful to retailers’ omnichannel profitability; ‘mixed basket’ capabilities.

These ‘mixed basket’ abilities, something that a handful of forward-thinking UK retailers are already using, is where in-store shoppers can purchase physically and digitally – seamlessly and at the same time.

This works via point of sale technology, by enabling staff to not only process transactions at the checkout, but to look at what items that customer has in their online basket, but hasn’t yet checked out. It then allows them to purchase both the online and in-store items at the same time. It’s a convenient solution that’s already been successfully adopted by the likes of Marks & Spencer and Waitrose.

In time, ideally retailers would run all their customer-related business through their point of sale technology and it would act as the hub through which CRM data on the customer, their social media activity, together with relevant product information and stock levels can be accessed. It should also be possible to process Click & Collect orders, deal with returns and issue refunds in real-time, while adjusting inventory and stock at the master level accordingly.

Such capabilities mean a ‘mixed basket’ can turn a mixed bag of results into a refined strategy for driving both online and offline sales at the same time.

Steve Powell is director of sales, EMEA, at unified commerce solutions and services provider PCMS.

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