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Conclusion – November 2016

It’s tempting, when looking at the European retail market, to look for differences across countries. French design values, it’s often said, mean the country’s websites look very different from those elsewhere in Europe. Thrifty German consumers don’t like to use credit cards. Fickle Brits love whizzy apps.

While we wouldn’t deny that such regional variations are important, our research for this Dimension Report makes us wonder whether we over-estimate their importance. There’s much that unites us too: as consumers, we don’t like to wait to be served, we want to be treated politely by retailers that understand us, we want consistency, and we want to shop in ways that are primarily convenient to us rather than the retailer.

Accordingly, rather than worrying about national stereotypes, which anyway never reflect subtle regional differences within nations, there’s much to be said for thinking about those areas of retail craft that apply across Europe. This seems a particularly apposite point to make because of the growth of mobile.

As Paul Skeldon points out in his strategic overview, that growth has outstripped all predictions. Wherever they live, it seems, European consumers want to shop using smartphones and tablet computers. They also want to use these devices to help them make cross-channel purchases, so that a purchase that begins with research online during a commute is completed at lunchtime via an office PC, or at home. Seen in this context, the job for retailers is simple: be better at cross-channel commerce than competitors and success will surely follow.

Of course, things are never really that straightforward. Just implementing the back-end technology required for state-of-the-art cross-channel retail is tough enough in itself – and that’s before we’ve factored in really understanding a market segment, merchandising, logistics and, yes, even regional differences.

Nevertheless, a key message from our research, both quantitative and qualitative, rooted in talking to retailers, is that mobile is now so central to retail that it’s no longer especially radical to talk about mobile first. Instead, it’s a phrase that embodies the idea that our smartphones and, to a lesser extent, tablets are the devices that make cross-channel retail work.

This isn’t going to change anytime soon. Just the opposite. Cross-channel retail will become more sophisticated and our smartphones will become more central to running our lives, at least until new kinds of Internet of Things-enabled devices take more of the load. Best prepare for this future now.

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