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Guest comment: The importance of being true to yourself

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by James Doman

I’m writing this after an interesting Twitter conversation I happened to have with @MichaelLomas. We talked about the ‘next-generation’ of high street, physical stores and the multichannel experience. There seems to be a lack of innovation from retailers in hard times: rather than embracing an opportunity to innovate and reinvent their shopping experience, many retailers have fallen to the lowest denominator: wanting to sell stock at whatever price.

Remember Woolworths? They failed because there was a lack of focus on who they were and what they wanted to be. You could walk in and buy pick and mix sweets, or you dedicate a trip to buying some sofa cushions, children’s toys and the latest DVD. There was no focus on the shopping experience – it was a case of “we sell it; you can come in and buy it”. Employees simply facilitated the taking of payment: they weren’t there to help, provide advice or even sell.

I think we’ll see the end of “stock it and they will come” retailers. Take Blacks, and their now-closed Freespirit brand. In the end, Freespirit became the dumping ground for stock that Blacks and Milletts couldn’t sell. They had moved away from their focus on adrenalin sports clothes and equipment with knowledgeable staff, to stocking more general sports clothing with any staff who wanted the job. On the flipside, Freespirit competitor Two Seasons (now owned by Billabong) are still focused on skateboard, snow and surf sports clothing and equipment. They seem to be doing well.

I think we need to see a move away from “selling” to “selling products”. For example, take Thomas Cook and Virgin Holidays: whilst Thomas Cook are shutting 200 stores as customers move online, Virgin Holidays opened their own standalone ‘holiday emporium’ with specialist staff promoting their “Rockstar Services approach”. There’s a clear difference between a brand wanting to sell, and a brand wanting to sell holidays.

As Chloe Rigby mentioned in the Thomas Cook article, “…consumers tell researchers again and again… that they want multichannel shopping.” That’s to say, the ability to walk into a store, talk to someone, go online, order it, and collect it in store. Whilst the future of the high street might only be branded showrooms and warehouses, an accessible presence is still crucial for multichannel success, as shown by John Lewis.

Maggie Porteous, head of selling operations at John Lewis, broke the news that the company had recently broken their own sales records, with one week’s revenue of £123.5m. However, I think the most important statistic they released was this: the number of shoppers using their click-and-collect service rose by 75%.

The infamous advert accurately describes the John Lewis experience. “Step into middle England’s best loved department store, stroll through haberdashery to the audio visual department where an awfully well brought up young man will bend over backwards to find the right TV for you.” That is an experience. And rather than going to to buy it, loyal shoppers who believe in the brand are going to the John Lewis website and ordering to click and collect.

It’s not just the pre-purchase and purchase decision that can be impacted by a great integrated multichannel experience. How many of you have ordered a printer through click-and-collect to find there’s no USB cable? Have you ever collected a new 42” LED TV with matching BlueRay player to find you’ve only got two HDMI slots, but need to plug your PS3 and Xbox 360 in too? Did you feel some post-purchase cognitive dissonance?

I’d like to put forward four steps to supercharge a multichannel strategy using personalisation technology to reinvent and refresh the offline and online shopping experience.

Step 1: Collect online behaviour

Your website is a goldmine of behavioural data – who browsed or bought which products, what their individual preferences are, what the crowd likes, what isn’t selling, which products are browsed but not bought, and so on.

This is very valuable data, especially if it focuses on the individual – if only more retailers would make use of it. I don’t know about you, but when I go onto Amazon, look at some men’s clothing, and then search for some trousers, I don’t want to see women’s trousers – but they show them. On, I’ve bought men’s jeans before, but want a matching t-shirt. So if I search for t-shirt, there’s about a 99% chance I don’t want to buy a female t-shirt – but that’s what they insist on showing me.

Here’s a good example: if I was lucky enough to receive a Christmas bonus, and wanted to buy a nice present for my mum, I’d go to Astley Clarke. I know she’s into pearl jewellery, so I start looking at pearl earrings – but actually, I think she’s got some of those, but I’m not sure if she’s got a pearl necklace. So I search for necklaces, and straightaway, I’m presented pearl necklaces. Thanks, clever website, you’ve made my job so much easier.

Step 2: Collect mobile behaviour

Mobile behaviour is always going to be different from your ‘real’ site behaviour. Visitors to your m-commerce site will be in a rush and wanting to purchase quickly, or lazily browsing, or carrying out some thorough research whilst in store. On its own, it isn’t that valuable. But when you visit a mobile site, it’s possible to marry it up with the online behaviour.

When you know that a visitor is on your mobile site, you begin to understand their context. If they followed a QR code (which I’m surprised that many retailers aren’t taking advantage of on shelf edge labels, especially in fashion), the site can marry up a single visitor profile. Imagine being in a shoe shop: you scan a QR code, visit the mobile site and are informed that unfortunately the store hasn’t got your size in stock, but you can order it online. However, you might be interested in this pair, in the same style, from the same brand and in stock in your size!

Step 3: Connect your in-store POS or loyalty card behaviour with online behaviour

When I bought some skincare in a Debenhams store, I was given a Beauty Club loyalty card, so used it and got the points (I’m sure they’ll come in handy one day). When I got home, I went online and activated the card, giving my email address (as well as my name, address, etc).

Marrying up data from different areas of your business through a common identity will lead to a better overall view of the customer. Not just your customer base; actual individual customers. And this can all be actioned in real-time. Your favourite supermarket might do something similar and print discount slips for products they want you to buy when you checkout.

Imagine you’re collecting some Christmas presents from Argos and the assistant gives you a receipt with some recommended toys (for 3-4 year old girls, because last year you bought 2-3 year olds) and a bit of a discount if you buy it whilst you’re in the store.

Instore data is also valuable for online use. If you don’t have a loyalty card system, but can get aggregated “people who bought this also bought” data from your POS system, this can supercharge your online recommendations with powerful data.

Step 4: Don’t underestimate the post-purchase period

If you have a lot of returns of one product sold on your online store, it’s worth taking a look at the product description to make sure nothing is being oversold. There’s nothing more damaging than being offered an all-singing, all-dancing product, to find it less exciting than a frilly lampshade.

You can use personalisation technology in multichannel to actively combat post-purchase dissonance. Email marketing is a great way to do this, not just to upsell products but to include content that will be relevant to the individual and their situation. Electronic retailers might send customers supporting information like links to instruction manuals and how to guides, along with ‘you may also like’ accessories. Fashion retailers might send out the latest look book guides (including the product they’ve bought, reaffirming that they’ve made the right decision), along with ‘Complete the look’ style suggestions.

Take a look in the mirror. Who are you?

Of course, nothing will happen overnight. We’ll see brands disappear from our high streets because they are too stuck in their ways, or have muddied and diluted their brand too much. Some offline brands will become online only, whilst some online brands will move offline (as ASOS are rumoured to be thinking about).

In the crowded online environment, pureplay retailers have fought hard to keep their identity and focus. Take ASOS, for example. They have created an experience that starts with homepage banners, includes the clothes they sell, their on-brand transactional emails and their curated selections.

Online retailers seem to be blessed with the ability to better understand who they are, who their customers are, and who they need to be – it’s this clear focus that is needed to help pureplay, offline and multichannel retailers invigorate their shopping experiences.

James Doman is marketing manager of PredictiveIntent


Picture one source:
faaadeout on Flickr

Picture two source: Virgin News Room

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