When we embarked on the first Internet Retailing special report back in 2009, multichannel was very much the territory of the forward-thinking retailer. Those retailers that had taken the decision that the future lay not only in launching a website but in linking site and store, and in giving customers a real choice of ways in which to shop, were distinctly in the minority. For the majority, it seems, online retail wasn’t that important. That’s not surprising, since back in February 2009 online sales were small, accounting for just 3.4 per cent of total retail spending, according to ONS figures.
Today, online sales are climbing fast, with more than 10 per cent of retail purchases now happening online, and some retailers are enjoying larger percentages that that. Forwardthinking Argos, for example, now sees 42 per cent of its sales happen online, while more than half (51 per cent) are multichannel, involving the internet at some point. But most traders now recognise that the influence of online goes further, with up to 70 per cent of transactions thought to start online. Today there can be few retailers that have not embarked on the journey towards becoming not only multichannel but omnichannel traders, linking up channels so that customers are met with a seamless consistent experience at whichever touchpoint they choose.
As we’ll see throughout this special report, that journey is challenging but one that, as we said all those years ago, has the potential to bring great rewards. While it’s likely that few retailers can yet describe themselves as truly omnichannel, a few forward-thinking retailers are now starting to see real dividends from work put in earlier. As the early adopting minority, which included names such as John Lewis as well as Argos, are now seeing online and multichannel revenues worth more than £1 billion a year, revenues that are helping to grow sales and turn a profit in an otherwise flat, and even declining, retail market, the majority are now finding inspiration in such examples.
It’s by no means too late to catch up. But most agree that the emphasis must now be on building and then honing the customer-centric, single-view systems that allow UK retailers to make the most of the wide-ranging and sophisticated omnichannel technologies that are now available.
Throughout this special report, we’ll be exploring the emerging best practice for omnichannel retail, as developed by leading retailers, consultants and an ever-more sophisticated industry of technology vendors.
We’ll also be asking questions about how and why omnichannel works in practice, and how retailers of all sizes can best put it into action. We’ll be doing that through the prism of six features, on interface & design, merchandising, cross-channel experience, logistics, strategy and IT & systems.
In our interface & design feature (page 10) we’ll be considering the problems inherent in designing for omnichannel at a time when many companies struggle with individual channels. Will new retail technologies make this easier? What does emerging best practice in omnichannel design say about where we might be headed?
Our merchandising feature (page 14) looks at how retailers can best harness personalisation. We consider the role that big data now plays in achieving solutions that merchandisers once expected to rely on their intuition to bring about, and explore how the one-time art of merchandising is adopting a new scientific approach.
Our cross-channel experience feature (page 19) takes a look at down-to-earth approaches to making the customer experience work across channels. It doesn’t have to be about magic mirrors and video walls. Rather, getting the basics right can have a transformational effect on the business.
Our logistics feature (page 22) explores the increasing variety of delivery services, looking at how retailers are working to give their customers the connected fulfilment services that, increasingly, are a chief point of differentiation between traders. We take a look at the rise of click and collect, and how traders are making it easier for shoppers both to collect purchases and to make returns. All of this adds up to convenient services that are seen no longer as an optional add-on but the way to keep customers satisfied, long-term.
In our strategy feature (page 25), we take a look at the way some retailers have followed the omnichannel logic to the point of transforming their businesses. Whether it’s a refocus around digital trading, around the customer, a flattening out of the hierarchy, omnichannel is leading to new ways of working. We take a look at some different approaches and consider the practical steps that retailers are taking.
Finally, our IT and systems piece (page 28) suggest that the time for make-do and mend has now passed when it comes to omnichannel systems. As ecommerce sales now near 20 per cent of turnover in some businesses, it’s time to think seriously about IT systems that provide the seamless retail that customers now expect.
We hope you find this special report useful. If you have comments, questions or suggestions for future supplements, do contact us. We can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.
INTRODUCING OUR SUPPLEMENT EDITOR
Chloe Rigby has been writing about business issues for more than a decade. A former business editor of the Bristol Evening Post, she has written for a wide variety of online and offline publications.
Jonathan Wright earned his e-stripes on the UK launch of Business 2.0, which rode the crest of the dot.com wave back at the turn of the millennium. Since then he’s been writing about subjects from entertainment to alternative investment for a variety of print and online audiences.