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by Simon Gray

The race for multichannel sales is on. Argos recently made a play to marry online accessibility with the physical experience of shopping by introducing wi-fi across 700 outlets. Meanwhile, premium department store Selfridges revealed plans to open a drive-through click-and-collect service at its London store. Even Tesco , which has had its struggles in 2013, rolled out a virtual shop trial at London Gatwick Airport allowing visitors to purchase products by holding their phone over an image of the item they wanted to buy.

This surge of digital progression on the high street is understandable as retailers wrestle to fit into the evolving landscape of the retail sector. The relentless progression of technology and the evolution of how consumers use it has caused an explosion in the amount of data available. Around 2.5 quintillion (that’s a one followed by 18 zeros) bytes of data are created every day while 90% of the world’s data has been born in the last 12 months alone. The sheer volume of information that is on offer seems daunting initially. However, it also presents retailers with a huge opportunity to engage their consumers.

The trials of many long-standing high-street retail brands continue to rumble on and the imminent closure of HMV’s iconic Oxford Street store is indicative of the changes taking place in the industry. It seems that retailers are now heeding the consequences that come from failing to adapt with changes in consumer habits. The huge growth of ‘showrooming’, where consumers try or view products in-store before finding them cheaper online, is symbolic of their desire to use the greater connectivity that they enjoy through mobile devices to their advantage. This promiscuity in turn presents retailers with a difficulty in not only securing sales, but establishing customer loyalty. This makes it imperative that stores up and down the country make sure they evolve their offering accordingly.

As a result, stores need to pay particular attention to how they manage their offering across both the online and physical spaces. For example many brands could benefit by reducing the number of high-street stores and instead direct purchases through their website, and then shape the in-store experience around the way they interact with the product. A failure to adapt like this could leave the business lagging behind and offers consumers less opportunity to spend time with the brand across all touchpoints.

An established high-street name that has made successful first strides in adapting to the changing landscape is Marks & Spencer . Last year the store introduced a number of initiatives designed to shift its proposition to fit in with the modern consumer, this included trailing QR codes, introducing free in-store Wi-Fi, and equipping its sales staff with iPads. Meanwhile, in a similar vein, Burberry waged a war against the common till by pulling them from its flagship Regent Street store and instead invited consumers to use their mobile devices to make purchases.

In each of these examples, the retailer has recognised the consumer’s desire to use technology to access the wider information that is housed on the internet and get the best deal for themselves. Both Marks & Spencer and Burberry brought the online experience into their physical outlets and therefore have given themselves the opportunity to collect and organise vast amounts of data.

Ultimately, retailers should take a holistic view of the customer journey to increase engagement. Stores have the chance to create a seamless, positive experience and gather insight from those purchasing their products to offer the consumer real value and improve their overall shopping experience.

The power of where, when and how the purchase process takes place has shifted from the retailer to the customer, and the task for brands is understand this and use it to their advantage. By developing their digital proposition, retail brands have the ability to create an immersive, personalised and coherent experience. Those that achieve this will stay ahead in the race for multichannel sales.

Simon Gray is head of new business, Lateral Group

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