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A building block of multichannel retail

A building block of multichannel retail

A building block of multichannel retail

Retailers that successfully integrate store and online, and desktop and mobile for the customer, suggests Martin Shaw, are the leading companies at the advent of a mobile-first world

Busy shoppers don’t distinguish between channels. Over the course of researching and buying a single item, shoppers can and do move between desktop websites, smartphones, social media and bricks-and-mortar stores. It follows that retailers that perform most strongly in the Mobile & Cross-channel Dimension are those that help customers to switch between channels easily.

In practice, this means that strongly performing retailers make it easy to set up wishlists and shopping baskets in one channel that can be accessed via another channel. It means that consumers who buy items online from a retailer can return them to a store or via a local collection point at a convenience store. It means features such as stock checkers, click-and-collect functionality and offering an app.

In our research for this Dimension, we gave particular attention to retailers’ performance in mobile web, apps and cross-channel features.

We partnered with NCC Group to measure mobile web performance. NCC tested the mobile websites of the Top500 on different days of the week and different times of the day. Each retailer’s median results from those tests were used to help rank the Top500 in this Dimension.

We measured apps because simply having an app potentially marks out a retailer as approaching cross-channel sales in a sophisticated way. To offer some context here: of the IRUK Top500 retailers, just 204 offered iOS apps at the time we were conducting our research.

That’s not to say all apps are equal and we carried out an extensive analysis of app features and usability. Working in conjunction with InternetRetailing Knowledge Partner Poq , we assessed Top500 mobile apps on more than 40 metrics chosen to highlight a dynamic and sophisticated Mobile & Cross-channel strategy.

This means we looked at app features such as the ability to check stock, to scan products and to manage a loyalty card or account. We also looked at the kind of product imagery available via apps, and whether they offered wishlists, product ratings and reviews.

Before moving on, it’s worth noting that the uptake of apps is perhaps not as high as many in the industry may expect. Although it’s not in the scope of our research, we would guess this is down to two main factors:

    • Developing an effective Mobile & Cross-channel strategy is expensive, resource intensive and time-consuming. We would expect the percentage of retailers with apps – both iOS and Android – to increase when we next compile the Top500.
    • It may be there are still retailers – worried by the stories of glitchy, expensive and ineffective apps that abounded when this tech was first rolled out – that have held off on making investments here. They have a point. No app is better than an unusable app and our rankings in this Dimension reflect that. That said, most Top500 apps provide a reasonable user experience.

What the Top500 do

Turning to mobile web speed – and remember even incremental improvements in speed improve conversion rates – mobile websites took an average of 8.9s to download, becoming visually complete in 8.1s. Pages were an average of 2.2MB in size, while the median was 1.7MB. Looking at another nuts-and-bolts metric, more than half (57%) of the 469 retailers for whom this metric was relevant enabled shoppers to collect online purchases in stores. More than a third (37%) enabled goods bought online to be returned to stores.

For those retailers that do have iOS apps, we found wide differences in the kind of functionality offered. Most strikingly, just 63% had transactional apps (those offering in-app shopping), with 37% not transactional. A little less than half of multichannel retailers (47%) enabled shoppers to find a store via the app. Just 17% of retailers had stock checkers.

More than half of retailers (52%) had apps that used push notifications, while 28% offered daily deals within the app. In terms of imagery, 53% offered more than one image, while half enabled customers to zoom in on images. While only 1% enabled shoppers to Like products via social media, a far more impressive 44% enabled customers to share products via social media. More than a quarter (27%) showed ratings and 26% offered written product reviews.

If there’s a pattern here, it’s that overall performance amongst the Top500 declines when it comes to more complex app functions. While there’s evidence that retailers are enabling shoppers to use their loyalty cards via the app in a way that links store and online, for example, just 4% enabled app users to create a new loyalty account via the app. More multichannel retailers (9%) enabled customers to enter details of existing loyalty cards or to scan their cards (8%), but we were surprised at how low these figures were, given the ‘single view of customer’ axiom.

What the Top100 do

To return to the idea that developing an effective Mobile & Cross-channel strategy is a major undertaking, it’s perhaps no surprise to find that bigger retailers performed strongly in this Dimension. The four major supermarkets, for instance, all feature in the Top50, unsurprising when you consider how many people now do their weekly shopping online, a development that’s pushed these retailers to invest heavily in their digital offerings.

Tesco, for instance, was rated highly because it emerged as one of the few retailers that enabled shoppers to create a new loyalty account through its app. Researchers found users could also scan existing loyalty cards and enter loyalty card details in the app. It also scored highly for both personalisation and its use of searchandising.

Tesco’s competitor Sainsbury’s offered an Android app as well as an iOS app, it offered daily deals via the app and also enabled shoppers to enter loyalty card details through the app. As for Asda and Morrisons , both supermarkets scored highly in offering product reviews, product ratings and daily deals.

Another familiar high street name that performed strongly was Marks & Spencer . In particular, the company offered shoppers the ability to scan a loyalty card and enter loyalty card details within its app. Boots offers the same functionality.

Turning to retailers that punched above their weights in terms of their Top500 Footprint ratings, these included Dorothy Perkins , Apple , Topshop , Holland & Barrett and House of Fraser . If there’s a unifying theme here, it’s that each company has made cross-channel retail a priority. Dorothy Perkins, for example, has an app that’s rich in features, and was rated highly for offering a store stock checker, daily deals and a barcode scanner. Apple also offered a store stock checker in its iOS app, while additional features included written product reviews and star ratings.

It’s also worth noting that retailers don’t need a bricks-and-mortar store presence to make Mobile & Cross-channel a priority. Amazon was highly rated for its click-and-collect convenience via both proprietary and third-party channels, plus its app’s product reviews, star ratings and daily deals. eBay was highly rated for its app offering, features such as a barcode scanner and native shopping, as well as for having an Android app.

In conclusion

Set against the fine rhetoric that sometimes surrounds the idea of multichannel retail built around individual customers, measuring such specific metrics may seem a rather functional approach to Mobile & Cross-channel.

However, to look at this from another angle, we need to keep in mind that truly delivering multichannel retail according to the demands of individual customers is tough. Seen in this context, the difference between a retailer that offers a speedy mobile website, a combined store and online loyalty account, and a bells-and-whistles app and another company where the offering lags a few years behind and does not offer click and collect, suggests a huge gap in readiness for a mobile-first world at a time when customers themselves are more and more willing to complete purchases of even big-ticket items via smartphones or continue their purchases through another channel.

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