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US ahead of UK retailers in drive towards omnichannel

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UK retailers lag behind the US when it comes to going omnichannel, new research suggests.

Some 27% of UK retailers have fully integrated omnichannel capabilities, a new LCP Consulting paper, Omnichannel: a UK v US perspective, suggests. That compares to 43% of US retailers.

The most important steps to achieving omnichannel are seen as integrated IT systems and fulfillment capabilities that see them deliver from any point to any point in the retail chain.

But the paper predicts that UK retailers won’t reach this point for between three and five years, compared to one to two years in the US.

Motivations were also different across the Atlantic, the study found. More than a third of UK retailers said they would introduce omnichannel because they simply “needed to compete”, while 27% of US retailers said they were aiming for a pre-defined return on investment. Only 16% of UK retailers agreed.

“Although both US and UK retailers are at different stages in developing their omnichannel capability, they are agreed that the greater overall benefits are an enhanced business model and increased sales,” said Stuart Higgins, retail partner, LCP Consulting. “This clearly shows a major step forward from the perception that it is simply the supply chain’s response to demand from new sales channels – to a driver for a wider change in corporate culture and adding direct value to the business.

“With US retailers further advanced and taking a more holistic approach to going omni, they are able to identify operating costs savings as well as stock availability improvements – so they can also identify a clearer return on investment.”

US retailers also saw that the role of the store would change in time as a result of ecommerce. They saw it as likely that such change would mean new store assortments and reduced stockholdings, while more knowledgeable and informed store staff would actively advise customers on their purchases.

Incentivising such behaviour, however, would mean new incentives, the report concluded. US retailers ranked high the need to focus on people, empowering them to deliver excellent customer service, or changing the role of store staff from simply serving customers to informing their choices.

In the UK, respondents were more process-focused, and said providing store-based staff with a single view of the retail world, or ensuring more visibility of the true cost of service, were key areas for employee development.

Stuart Higgins said: “This difference highlights the importance that US retailers place on store colleagues as a critical part of delivering a seamless retailing experience and presents a very strong call to UK employers in the early stages of transition to consider re-evaluation of their employment culture.

“This is further evidenced by those UK retailers which are now some way down a fully integrated track – such as Tesco and John Lewis – who have embraced the massive changes required in store staff knowledge, culture, behaviours and training.”

The paper also says that the omnichannel revolution is advancing at such a pace that the term itself is polarising the supply chain debate. But, whether the approach is expressed as ‘seamless retail’, ‘integrated retail’ or similar, the principles remain the same and are dramatically altering the retail industry.

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