There is more to a good cross-channel experience than in-store web kiosks or consistent promotions, advises Penelope Ody. Understanding the customer journey, engaging the browsers, and streamlining click and collect can be even more beneficial.
One only has to wander around a busy shopping mall on any typical day to appreciate that shopping is a social activity. Indeed, it always has been. For many, a morning spent browsing around the shops with friends or family, interspersed with a gossipy coffee break or lunch, is a favourite leisure activity. Today, add social media – and the ability to share the experience with absent friends – or mobile, to extend the window-shopping to home or office, and the sociability side becomes ever more important.
“Shopping today is PHD,” says Aaron Shields, strategic planning director at Fitch, “physical, human and digital. Retailers need to understand their PHD – what makes them unique and where they excel, but many don’t yet understand the digital aspect and how it can be integrated into the customer experience. It’s a mistake to think purely in terms of technology and the transaction: shopping is also a browsing activity.”
Do customers really expect web kiosks, tablet computers, magic mirrors and video walls, or is the cross-channel experience more about being able to track products and purchases in whichever channel consumers happen to be shopping?
“I’m not sure if customers expect the full technology deal in-store,” says Siobhan Gehin, associate partner, Kurt Salmon. “Certainly everyone is enthusiastic about the iPad for taking photos or showing product reviews; and, in assisted selling, staff need to be able to access information – they can’t keep asking to borrow a customer’s smartphone to do that. At the value end, though, there is evidence that customers don’t expect a multichannel experience: high-tech services give the impression of higher prices being charged in order to cover the costs involved.”
BACK TO BASICS
More important may be getting the basics right: click-and-collect orders that really are ready to collect, or loyalty points that can be redeemed as easily in-store as online. “Gift cards are a classic example,” says Tina Royall, director of marketing for Futura Retail Solutions. “Customers want to be able to spend them anywhere.”
Cath Kidston is the first to implement Futura’s e-gift card solution as a fully functional multichannel offering. The system uses web services to enable customers to spend, check their balances or add to the card value, both in-store and online. There are additional security features using a PIN and gift card number, and gift certificates can also be sent by email as an alternative to a conventional card. Having launched the scheme in time for last Christmas, Cath Kidston is now looking to extend it to its international stores. “It’s another way we are improving services for customers and making the shopping experience as enjoyable and easy as possible,” says Mike Padfield, IT director for Cath Kidston.
Getting click and collect right is just as important, and that can be as much a staff issue as the practical problem of picking single items at store or warehouse level. “Multichannel is still very new,” says Andrew McGregor, co-founder and CEO of eCommera , “and while the UK is among the most sophisticated in the world for cross-channel activity, the focus has been on the front end – on ‘customer experience’. In reality to be effective you have to join up the inventory as well.”
Knowing how much stock there is and where it is located, is essential if retailers really are to honour such promises as 90-minute delivery or same-day collection. “It’s also a structural issue,” adds Richard Traish, partner at Kurt Salmon.
“Stores are not designed for multichannel activity – they’re not built as fulfilment centres. Retailers such as Asda have been pleasantly surprised at how successful click and collect can be – but you need to have space to accommodate the collection point and that can be difficult.”
At Asda, says Traish, the click-and-collect point is at the video desk at the back of the store. “That means customers have to walk through the clothing section to collect their order and they’ll pass all sorts of potential impulse buys on the way. Where the collection point is located within the store is very important.”
For small stores a single till point may also cover customer information and collections and if there is a queue, the cashier has either to leave the desk to find the order or ask the customer to wait while she summons assistance: neither option is likely to deliver a positive ‘experience’.
“Retailers have tended to underestimate the likely take up of both click and collect and return to store,” adds Traish. “There are huge costs involved in processing returns and they’re not going to go away in future.”
GETTING STAFF ONSIDE
Cultural changes, too, are needed. If staff see click and collect as a nuisance, detracting from ‘store’ business and hitting sales figures when goods are returned, their negative attitude is unlikely to enhance customer experience. In the early days when all multichannel retailers were still at the experimental stage, poor performance was not especially noticeable. Now, with companies such as Next delivering a near seamless cross-channel experience, failure is apparent. “If shoppers have an excellent experience with one retailer then that becomes their norm,” says Richard Traish, “and they expect the same standard from others.”
Gavin Masters, head of product consultancy at Maginus agrees: “The majority of customers don’t expect a seamless cross-channel experience, they don’t expect the store to know what they have bought online. But as soon as some of the big brands start to get it right, then that’s when shoppers’ expectations increase and other retailers have to move up to that level.”
Currently we’re probably getting close to that point, with some leading players starting to deliver those bar-raising ‘excellent’ experiences. With the basics right and the back-end technology well integrated, it may then be time to experiment with some of the glitzy technologies now on offer – systems like Holition’s Colour Mirror, which automatically re-colours specific garments so shoppers only need try on one to see what they will like in every shade, or the various interactive ‘digital mannequins’ and window displays from companies such as TBWA and Feonic that can help enable out-of-hours shopping.
Consumer behaviour is, however, constantly changing – especially as the younger ‘millennials’ or ‘Generation Z’ become more influential. A recent survey of 1,000 shoppers by retail agency Live and Breathe suggests that just over half of consumers questioned actually visit the high street intending to buy things. A third are there to eat out while 28 per cent are just window shopping and almost a quarter to meet friends – obviously some high street visitors do more than one activity once they get there, but a great many are not there to shop.
SMARTPHONE POLICY MOBILE EVOLUTION
“Best Buy used to put stickers over the product barcodes in-store to prevent customers scanning them with their mobiles for price comparisons, now we’re seeing companies like Dixons put QR codes on their shelves to give instant access to product and competitive price information and that can also provide staff with an opportunity to engage shoppers and upsell.” Siobhan Gehin, associate partner, Kurt Salmon Browsing always has been a major part of store activity but just looking can include researching products. Today that involves using mobiles – and not all retailers currently find that acceptable. As Andreas Kopatz, product marketing manager at Intershop says: “In some parts of Europe, retailers don’t allow customers to access the internet in their stores to stop them looking at price comparison sites. If they continue to go along that path then they will lose customers. They have to allow interaction and enable staff to negotiate on prices. Ultimately it improves the customer experience, enhances their image and leads to more positive posts on social networks.”
Offering to price match need not necessarily involve drastic price cutting: skilled staff, who know their products can guide shoppers to something more suitable and potentially more expensive; they can emphasise the convenience of taking the product away with them; or cross-sell an assortment of related item that the shopper may not even have thought of. They can also leave that cross-channel customer feeling that he or she has made the right choices and has the ideal products for their needs: that they have had an enjoyable customer experience. And that is something good sales staff have been doing for generations.
Speaking from Experience
“Best Buy used to put stickers over the product barcodes in-store to prevent customers scanning them with their mobiles for price comparisons, now we’re seeing companies like Dixons put QR codes on their shelves to give instant access to product and competitive price information and that can also provide staff with an opportunity to engage shoppers and upsell.”
Siobhan Gehin , associate partner, Kurt Salmon
“Shoppers know when they have registered online and the retailers knows what they buy, but when they’re in-store they’re unknown. People have to see a benefit in identifying themselves in-store, but even then most retailers still don’t have a single customer file as the information exists in silos.
Tina Royall, director of marketing, Futura Retail Solutions
“Younger generations are more receptive to technology than older people – many of them wouldn’t mind having a chip implanted to identify themselves and ensure they received personalised service in every channel.”
Scott Dacko, associate professor of marketing and strategic management, Warwick Business School
Retailers are realising that a seamless cross-channel customer experience requires serious systems integration and good store processes to ensure that such services as click and collect are problem free. As Tui demonstrates, store staff need training to be both proactive and digital-savvy in their approach to customers.
Tui Revamp Brings Channel-hopping In-store
While booking trips online has become standard practice for many, one in five UK holidays are still arranged via a high street travel agent, and Tui is determined that its 700 Thomson and First Choice outlets should be favourite destinations.
By Christmas, the company is planning to convert 10 stores to its new high-tech multichannel format with the rollout spreading to 100 within three years. The new stores combine video display screens, web kiosks and tablet-toting sales staff, enabling customers to interact in whichever way they prefer when it comes to booking a holiday.
“We’re already multichannel as we know that our customers pick up brochures instore and book online, or else research on the web and then come into the store to finalise their arrangements,” says Doug Glenwright, manager, retail transformation for Tui UK and Ireland. “Currently our shops are quite transactional but we want to take a more interactive and cross-channel approach which will bring the brand to life. Our website already has strong content so we’re bringing that into the shops to enhance the experience.”
For Glenwright, the physical shop adds people and theatre to the multchannel experience. “Once customers are excited about the interaction in-store it is far easier for them to open their wallets,” he adds.
Screens – three metres by two metres – on the outside of each outlet will display exotic holiday locations chosen to reflect seasonal dreams, such as sunny beaches in the depth of a British winter, while instore kiosks can either be used selfservice by customers or as selling aids by staff. “We want to encourage staff to explore the holiday options with our customers not give them a hard sell, so they need a completely new approach to customers,” says Glenwright. “We have an intensive training programme and we’re recruiting for the right sort of staff who like to engage with people and will take the time to understand a customer’s requirements – rather like the ones we employ as holiday reps.”