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Conclusion: Putting the Customer at the Centre of Retail

Let’s be honest, omnichannel is a dreadful piece of jargon. That’s a particular shame because the idea it embodies is actually straightforward. Omnichannel retail, as interviewee after interviewee has told us in different ways as we compile this supplement, is all about customers being able to buy goods in ways that suit them, whatever channel they choose. Moreover, if a customer chooses to use more than one channel – perhaps researching via mobile prior to buying via PC and picking up in-store – this process should be as seamless and friction-free as possible.

Put like this, omnichannel retail sounds simple. As so often in life, the devil is in the detail. Implementing omnichannel retail pits retailers against disruptive factors as varied as legacy systems that don’t talk to each other and social media channels that can’t be controlled. As Mo Syed points out in our interface and design feature, it’s tough enough simply designing a website, let alone what we might call an omnichannel experience.

And yet, particularly for larger retailers, this is an issue that can’t be ducked. As John Lewis , so long trailblazers in linking online and stories, has proved, if you link the digital domain with the real world and great customer service, the rewards are considerable.

So how should retailers go about doing this? A key point that comes through from our interviews is that many retailers have become too fixated on the idea of communicating with customers via different channels. At the risk of labouring the point, customers don’t shop via channels, they shop at Sainsbury’s or Marks & Spencer or House of Fraser.

Retailers must start to look at their operations from the perspective of customers. In doing so, companies can begin to make retail personal again.

No, this isn’t a nostalgic paean to old George the shopkeeper who knew all his customers’ first names. Rather, it is a way of saying that retailers need to use a combination of technology and the information they hold about customers to open conversations with these customers, to speak to them as far as possible individually rather than sending generic sales messages.

Quite simply, those companies that combine personalisation with seamless customer service across channels will likely prosper. Those that don’t may face a far gloomier future.

Each of Internet Retailing’s series of special reports explores key questions facing retailers today. We welcome your ideas and suggestions for future themes at

Chloe Rigby and Jonathan Wright

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