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How Waitrose is using omnichannel in a strategy aimed at setting itself apart

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Internet Retailing visited Waitrose’s just-opened Swindon branch to see how the supermarket is bringing digital and the store together to create new ways of shopping.

One side of Waitrose Swindon overlooks a canal, where guests can relax peacefully on the terrace of the supermarket’s café terrace as they take a break from their shopping trip. But look the other way, and diggers sit in the middle of a muddy building site that will one day boast 4,500 new homes. This mixed-use development project is very much a work in progress – but Waitrose is there now, ready for the business that will come as the estate develops.

So it is with the ideas and use of technology inside the store, as Waitrose puts in place the pieces of its omnichannel jigsaw ready for a rise in demand for a new kind of shopping. Swindon is one of Waitrose’s newest stores, just opened on April 10 and already trading 50% ahead of budget – and it’s one that’s at the forefront of the supermarket’s move towards omnichannel. For this 40,000 sq ft store, of which 28,300 sq ft is selling space, is a showcase for Waitrose’s latest concepts.

Introducing visitors to the store, yesterday, Waitrose managing director Mark Price said: “We have been trialling a lot of new things e over the last couple of years. This is the branch where we have been able to bring everything together for the first time. What you’ll see today is a strategic response to future retail.”

Today, said Price, the UK market is “the most competitive place to do food in the world.” Waitrose’s response is to an environment in which rivals such as Morrisons and Tesco are cutting prices in order to compete against the growing popularity of discounters such as Aldi and Lidl. But it’s also a response to a world in which customers are “promiscuous,” shopping more frequently and buying less each time.

“We’re going to be everything that the discounters aren’t,” said Price. “They’re 1,500 lines, we’re going to be 25,000 lines plus. You’ll see services that you won’t see in other supermarkets. It’s about really looking after our customers when they come here and making it an experience.”

He added: “However you want to interact with us in the digital world you’ll be able to do it. We have embraced technology both in terms of what it can do to drive the efficiency and how it can improve the customer experience, something that discounters are never going to do.”

Making a difference

Waitrose’s big ideas, as seen in the Swindon store, include a horticulture pod outside the store – research shows that as a group Waitrose shoppers’ second biggest interest (after cooking) is in gardening – a juice bar inside the store, and a new concierge-style Welcome desk, where free tea, coffee and iced water are available to myWaitrose card holders. Currently some 70% of Waitrose transactions are made by 4.5m myWaitrose cardholders, so the card proves a valuable source of data and gives opportunities for personalisation.

Ecommerce orders are packed in the warehouse behind the store for home delivery or for click and collect. Customers can pick up their online Waitrose order in the store, and will soon be able to pick up their John Lewis order through click and collect, adding to a trend that sees some 60% of orders now picked up in Waitrose stores. If they have a query with their order before collection, customers will be able to call straight through to the people who are picking and packing it.

But some of the newest and most interesting ideas are in the digital in the store. That’s present in the interactive kiosk where shoppers can find out more about wines or recipes and the café area screen that’s streaming Waitrose TV. It’s in the 11 iPads throughout the store, where customers can order food to eat in store, place their entertainment order at the Welcome desk or find out about and order celebration cakes.

Testing technology

Waitrose is trialling a number of customer service apps for instore use at its new Swindon store. One demo application enables shoppers to place their order at its in-store juice bar before they arrive in store using PayPal and QikServe technology. Once the order has been placed and paid for via the shopper’s own device, a message visible from the the juice bar iPad shows a picture of the shopper so that staff recognise them on arrival and can hand over their order with a smile. The shopper can share their transaction via social media.

The store is also testing the use of mobile technology to improve the customer’s journey round the store. Another demo app, being trialled internally, uses the Quick Check technology that has powered scan-and-shop purchasing in Waitrose stores over the last decade. This app enables a customer journey that starts at home, where customers can scan the products they already have, using a barcode scanning app, to create a shopping list. On arrival at the store, beacon technology recognises the shopper, who is served relevant offers as they walk around the store. There they can also use their smartphone as a Quick Check handset, scanning items to check information – including ratings and reviews – on the products they see, clicking to add them to their basket. When products are added to the basket, they are automatically crossed off the customer’s shopping list. “Quick Check scans it, puts it in the basket for you to pay later,” says Millington.” When they’ve finished, the shopper can pay for their order at the checkout or complete the transaction on their phone. Completion of payment generates an end-of-shop barcode that can be presented when someone leaves the store for a rescan, if required as part of random basket checks.

Other in-store transactions, such as meals and snacks at in-store grazing bars, are processed on tablet computers by sales staff. “We’ve rolled out over 4,000 devices to partners who are in branches because we think it’s really important to provide them with the information they need at their fingertips,” said Cheryl Millington, Waitrose IT director.

Wine buying

The supermarket also aims to weave online content together with the store to make for an inspirational shopping trip. This comes into play first in the company’s “imminent” new wine site,

“This isn’t just about inspiration in our digital channels, it’s about the store environment as well,” said Tony Rivenell, head of omnichannel delivery at Waitrose.

The site will feature a wine finder, recommendations from wine specialists, tasting notes and videos, and is Waitrose’s first to feature ratings and reviews, using Bazaarvoice technology. Individual customers will see relevant content that’s personalised to their interests.

“It’s creating a much richer, much more engaging environment, that brings Waitrose to life,” said Rivenell. He said the Cellar was the first example of an approach that would be extended across Waitrose’s sales channels.

The Waitrose vision of a joined-up future is illustrated by typical customer, ‘Mrs W’. She might be invited to the store for a personalised tour. On arrival, she might have something to eat from the grazing bar before being shown to the wine department to be talked through the wines that recommended for her on a particular day, said Rivenell. Once she’s seen that information she can scan the bottle of wine herself, using a mobile app released soon after the website, to get more information. She might choose to buy from the extended range that’s stocked online, checking out using her myWaitrose details or at the in-store point of service. Once she’s bought a wine, tasting notes will be sent to the phone.

In future, said Rivenell, “a customer can turn up at the store, pre-order their goods, one of our partners will pick and pack that for them, the customer can graze the store, and through a concierge service take delivery of their goods. It’s a much more experiential service and that first comes to life with the Cellar.”

Find out more about the Waitrose strategy in the forthcoming issue of Internet Retailing magazine, which has an interview with Robin Phillips, director of ecommerce at Waitrose.

• Waitrose’s sister company John Lewis is to open a ‘click and commute’ store at St Pancras. The 3,000 sq ft convenience store is part of a strategy of being present at transport hubs and other busy areas where it could not have a large department store, and is expected to open in the autumn.

Andrew Murphy, retail director, has said that if the trial was successful, John Lewis would consider opening more small outlets at other transport hubs and high street locations.

“In the battleground of convenience, we are announcing a new way for commuters to shop with us,” Murphy told The Guardian.

“Customers spend a huge amount of time commuting, and our research shows that making life easier and shopping more convenient is their top priority.”

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