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GUEST COMMENT Bridging the gap between online and offline

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2014 was certainly the year that retailers up’d the ante in their quest to provide shoppers with a seamless, integrated, multi-channel shopping experience. And the first quarter of 2015 has already seen a number of retailers and brands further integrate their online and offline offerings. Unilever for instance has announced that it is looking to scale how it uses iBeacons to bridge offline shopper data with mobile ad retargeting following a successful trial in Sweden for its Knorr brand.

What’s clear is that it is no longer sufficient for retailers to simply strive for a smooth offline to online experience. Rather, the two should be so flawless that there is no differentiation. Technologies such as transactional kiosks and iPads have now become common practice for retailers seeking the benefits of selling online stock to customers within bricks and mortar stores. House of Fraser shoppers for instance are now able to check stock levels for the items that suit them while they’re in-store or on the move, thanks to a new app with a personalised stock finder.

With Amazon and Argos topping the UK retail app charts as the UK leads the world in uniting on and offline retailing it is clear that other retailers need to step up to the plate.


When striving to achieve this, convenience should be front of mind for retailers. This is one of the key considerations in determining whether a customers’ transition from in-store to online is a seamless one; allowing customers to pick-up and return items in the way that suits them. Forward-thinking retailers have sought to narrow the gap between online and offline experiences by introducing a variety of mechanisms to allow customers to do just this.

In the US for example the start-up Shyp, which provides pick-up, packaging, and sending services, has just announced ‘Shyp Returns’ which allow for returning online orders to participating retailers. Those already partnering with Shyp include Amazon, Target, Gap, and Nordstrom.

Using the Shyp iPhone or Android app, users can select “return online purchase” and a Shyp driver will retrieve items for $5 per pickup in about 20 minutes, with boxes and extra packing items at no extra cost.

Whilst in the UK, Wilderooms has announced it is launching a try-before-you-buy service for online clothes shopping that allows customers to order from multiple retailers. Set to launch in September it will pay for the goods chosen by customers and have them delivered to its premium dressing rooms, likely to be located in leading shopping centres, where shoppers can try on clothes before deciding whether or not to purchase.

Take a step back

To succeed in implementing a seamless multichannel experience, it is worth taking a step back and ensuring that your brand message is consistent across channels; also that the experience does not differ in quality across these channels. To help achieve this, you must know your target audience, and be targeted and purposeful in your approach. Put yourself in the shoes of the shopper and ask what you would expect if you were in their position.

Once these basics are in place, you are in a prime position to leverage technology to help customers browse, purchase and collect items in their preferred way and innovation will follow.

Schuh for example has recently teamed up with Google to create a location-based real world mobile phone game, where users cross between virtual and reality. Users playing the game called Ingress will be able to interact with ‘portals’ in Schuh retail stores in the UK and Ireland. Players can then interact with locations within the game while they browse footwear in the store.

In one sense, online and offline are very different beasts, but two key principles apply to both. Firstly, presentation is everything – whether online or in-store, the presentation of the products is a vital part of a customers’ path to purchase. Online and in-store have different advantages here. Online, customers can benefit from viewing catwalk shows so that they can see how the clothes fit, and can view many outfits far more quickly than is possible in-store. But in-store, the ability to touch and feel products is a key benefit, and retailers have the opportunity to use the physical presence of the customers to their advantage.

Case study

We worked with Landmark bookstores, a successful retailer with 18 stores across India, to build an online presence – one that would reflect the in-store experience that their already loyal customer base had come to know and love and to achieve their ambition of becoming the ‘Amazon of India’.

To make the experience as seamless as possible, we improved the search functionality and created unique delivery options such as pay by cheque and pay on delivery. We also provided Landmark with a highly flexible CMS and integrated with some of their existing business systems to streamline their financial and stock management processes. All of this was accommodated on our robust and flexible e-commerce platform.

Since launch at the end of 2011, the site has made a huge impact on Landmark’s business. The improved search functionality has seen traffic to the site leap by 430%. Revenues have increased significantly and continue to grow. We continue to work with Landmark adding new features and enhancements to the site all the time with the most recent addition being a mobile version of the site.

So with retailers like Ted Baker realigning their strategies to place digital front and centre it is clear that ‘digital-first’ is a must in order to offer customers the experience they expect. This approach not only removes the boundaries between the real and virtual worlds, but also provides absolute convenience to customers, making it an approach no retailer can afford to ignore.

Steve Grout is CEO of Tangent Snowball

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