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Editor’s comment – September 2018

At one end of this issue of Internet Retailing magazine is the news of the demise of House of Fraser, its resurrection and the reverberations being felt by suppliers to the once 59-strong department store chain. Some 627 jobs are at risk at warehouses operated by XPO on behalf of the retailer while Mulberry has issued a profit warning because it couldn’t be sure that House of Fraser would meet its obligations.

Further into the issue, Rob Bridle, Logistics Director at Schuh, gives readers an inside view of the company’s logistics operations. The thriving shoe retailer is a leader in InternetRetailing’s Top500 Operations & Logistics Dimension as well as being a Leading Retailer in the overall UK rankings. He explains that the retailer fulfils orders direct to customers from two distribution centres in Scotland, another in the Midlands and 133 stores that are used as mini fulfilment centres. In fact, 50% of all orders are fulfilled from store stock.

As Craig Summers, UK Managing Director, Manhattan Associates, says in his guest article for InternetRetailing: “An effective omnichannel strategy is not just about the front-end experience for the consumer; it’s about the seamless back-end processes that retailers use to navigate inventory, customers and returns through the entire infrastructure.”

It is these back-end processes that continue to be invested in at Schuh since “ensuring resources are in place to support the company’s future growth aspirations,” is one of the core goals for Bridle’s logistics team. Providing a great service to all of its logistics customers and finding ways to add value by doing things better, more efficiently or more cost effectively are the other two.

There are many retailers though between the extremes of House of Fraser and Schuh. As we investigate omnichannel, whether it can be profitable, sustainable or just a continuous journey, articles focus on different aspects of retail’s bid to be a channel-neutral industry and the challenges that lie ahead.

The second Grimsey Report joins retailers in calling for the government to “accept that there is no confidence in business rates” and calls for it to be replaced with a tax based on land, area or property value or for a sales tax to be introduced instead.

The government meanwhile, under High Streets Minister Jake Berry MP, has set up a panel of experts to diagnose issues currently affecting the health of the high street and advise on the best practical measures to help them thrive now and in the future.

Along with the issue of taxation, technology and how it is being combined with skilled staff , is investigated in this issue of InternetRetailing too. Dixons Carphone is rolling out up to 8 iPad minis per store for staff to use when interacting with customers. The iPads hold a cut-down version of the Currys PC World consumer-facing website giving staff access to aids including product comparisons and buyers’ guides.

Stuart Ramage, Ecommerce Director, Dixons Carphone, spoke to me about how the application was tested across 50 stores and the learning the company has gone through along the way to deployment across its estate of 340 stores. He explained that there is a wealth of information out there about the products and the services that Currys PC World offers, so consolidating that into a device made perfect sense.

It became apparent during trials that access to the full website wasn’t the best option. Feedback from staff was that it wasn’t as much of an aid as the digital team was expecting and take-up and engagement was also below what they anticipated.

“The website was built for non-assisted consumer interaction. But when you had colleagues there, who are able to assist with their own knowledge and their training alongside the information we have on the website, those two things were quite powerful. What was getting in the way was effectively the rest of the website,” he said.

Bringing together technology and staff, whether in the store environment, the warehouse or areas of head office can lead to powerful improvements in the customer experience as well as efficiencies and cost saving. AI is one technology increasingly being invested in by retailers, but it is the mobile phone that is having the biggest impact in the consumers’ view. Paul Skeldon, InternetRetailing’s Mobile Editor, investigates how it continues to change shopper behaviours across channels as they point, discover and experience retail.

We may be at the beginning of the Fourth Industrial Revolution but retailers have access to many levers that will control how they navigate the changes ahead and these will dictate what the high street looks like in the future.

Omnichannel and more will be discussed at the upcoming InternetRetailing Conference. I look forward to meeting readers in London on 11 October.

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