Welcome to the latest in our series of Internet Retailing supplements, where the focus in on internet retailing in-store, or IRIS for short. Even a couple of years back, when many saw the high street as in competition with ecommerce, this might have seemed a contradictory title. However, among today’s leading retailers, there’s a recognition that cross-channel retail is the way forward.
That’s because consumers no longer make purchases just online or in the high street, making their behaviour easy to track. Instead, as we’ve often observed, they make journeys towards purchases that might involve initial research on a PC, completing a transaction via mobile on the bus to work and picking up an item in the store.
Alternatively, they might look at an item in store, share a photo with a friend via mobile and then complete the purchase via laptop at home. As Giles Colborne, managing director of usability experts cxpartners notes, “People really do try to do everything on all channels, including buy big, complex, expensive things and research information on their phones.”
What’s the place of the store within this eco-system? The answer to this question is still beginning to emerge. However, the direction of travel is already clear. The line between the traditional store and other channels is beginning to blur. At a simple level, that may just mean free wi-fi, an acknowledgment if nothing else that customers want to use their smartphones as they wander around retail outlets.
But this really is just the start. Burberrys’ flagship central London outlet is designed to reflect the company’s online experience. This means, for example that clothing is embedded with chips that can be read by screens and mirrors. Take a jacket to the changing room and the mirror might show you, for example, details about its production. The children’s department has iPads with apps to amuse youngsters.
Of course, Burberrys is a high-end brand and such innovations are in part about proving this. However, M&S is Middle England personified, yet it too is making substantial investments here, with the establishment of its digital lab. So have these companies jumped off at the deep end?
After all, as this supplement went to press, the January 2013 retail sales figures had just come through, showing that, overall, customers bought 0.6 per cent less goods than in December 2012 even as internet sales grew. Isn’t the future digital?
No. While we’re all doing more day-to-day shopping, the boring business of laying in food or even, writing from recent experience, buying spare parts for broken scooters online, shopping as a leisure activity isn’t going away anytime soon. Increasingly, those retailers that do best, at all levels of the market, will be the ones that recognise this, as we explore over the coming pages.
In the interface section (page 6) we look at the design issues around new kinds of digital interfaces. Multiple touchpoints equates to multiple challenges because a digital interface that’s appropriate to one environment may be totally wrong for another scenario.
Next, in our merchandising feature (page 10), Barnaby Page, editor of Screenmediamag.com, considers the new technologies that enable retailers both better to understand consumers’ behaviour within stores and to guide these customers towards purchases. While there are obvious privacy issues around tracking individuals within bricks-and-mortar environments, there’s rich promise here too as retailers use digital technologies to gain a more sophisticated picture of how different groups of customers like to shop.
In the cross-channel experience feature (page 14), M-Retailing editor Paul Skeldon focuses on the way the online and offline retail experiences are merging. What new challenges and opportunities does this present? In our operations and logistics section (page 18), the respected journalist and retail expert Penelope Ody considers practical issues around making cross-channel retail work as well as possible.
In our strategy section (page 21) we consider the wider issues around the move to so-called omnichannel commerce. There’s no point in grumbling about ‘showrooming’, we learn, it’s far better to focus on creating (a recurring theme) “a seamless experience across multiple platforms”.
Finally, in our IT and systems feature (page 24), we look at some of the back-end challenges around bringing ecommerce technologies into the store. More screens and more connectivity equates to big development challenges, but these can be – and are being – overcome.
We hope the features in this supplement will give you practical insights into the major issues around using digital and ecommerce technologies within the store environment. Judging by the pace of development here, it’s a subject to which we expect to return soon. We’d be interested to hear your thoughts – please get in touch.
INTRODUCING OUR SUPPLEMENT EDITORS
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.