Omnichannel retail comes top of the Christmas list
With Christmas fast approaching and retailers ramping up their festive offerings, predictions are inevitably emerging around Christmas shopping trends for this year. And more specifically how retail spend will continue to shift from physical high-street stores to online shopping.
PWC expects ecommerce to grow in the UK due to the short amount of time between the Black Friday shopping period and Christmas day, the timing of the general election impacting footfall, and growing consumer confidence in both the online experience and delivery. It forecasts £5 will be spent online for every £4 spent in shops during the Christmas period.
The media often portrays this ongoing shift in consumer spending to ecommerce channels as a negative trend that is hurting traditional retail, but the fact is online and offline shopping doesn’t need to be an either / or scenario. Today’s consumers don’t want to have to choose between two distinct options; they value the convenience of online, offline and everything in between.
Ecommerce allows consumers to shop whenever and wherever they like, quickly and easily comparing different products and retailers, and checking out customer reviews to inform their purchase decisions, all without having to navigate busy car parks and checkout queues. In-store shopping, on the other hand, offers instant gratification. It allows shoppers to pick up, inspect, and potentially try out an item before buying it and to leave the store with it in their possession. And of course many people thoroughly enjoy the in-store shopping experience.
Retailers aren’t limiting themselves to either online or offline business models. Pure-play digital brands including ASOS are appreciating the value of in-person contact with consumers and are getting involved in experiential events such as payment provider Klarna’s Covent Garden retail pop-up. At the same time traditionally offline retailers are exploring online channels, with Aldi gradually increasing the range of products available through its ecommerce offering as well as teaming up with AO.com to deliver non-food items.
Emerging omnichannel models
Ideally, shoppers want to take the best of both the online and offline worlds and choose the retail route that suits their immediate needs, whatever they may be. If a consumer wants to buy a last minute birthday gift for a colleague before they arrive at the office, for instance, they probably need to visit a physical store. But the shopping process is made far simpler if they can research products from the comfort of their sofa the night before, and reserve an item for immediate in-store collection using their laptop, tablet or smartphone.
Consumer desire for a friction-free shopping experience is driving a variety of omnichannel retail models in addition to the well-established click-and-collect or in-store pick-up route outlined above. From Research Online, Purchase Offline (ROPO) and Browse In-store, on Mobile and Buy Online (BIMBO), to Buy Online and Return In Store (BORIS), forward-looking retailers are empowering consumers with a variety of options and encouraging them to shop via the most convenient. Rather than presenting online and offline as two conflicting paths, retailers should be looking for ways the two can complement one another in a truly omnichannel approach.
Tech enables omnichannel retail
To deliver a genuine omnichannel experience, retailers require innovative tools and technologies from trusted partners that can be fully integrated with their existing systems to ensure a seamless experience. First they need an enterprise-grade ecommerce solution, ideally cloud-based, with an effective AI-driven recommendation engine, a simple and intuitive checkout process and secure flexible payment options. They will also benefit from a Customer Data Platform (CDP) to unify customer data across all touchpoints and build a comprehensive, real time customer view.
In-store technologies such as near-field communication (NFC) and beacons can be used to connect the offline and online worlds, while robust measurement tools such as multi-touch attribution (MTA) can be used to track the full customer journey, revealing the triggers that drive sales and other desired interactions. And of course retailers will need advanced logistics solutions that provide an integrated view of all channels and inventory, while also enabling flexible delivery and fulfilment options.
As the festive season approaches and Christmas shopping picks up pace, the retail conversation shouldn’t be about the continual drift of spend from offline to online. It should be about how retailers can maximise the omnichannel opportunity through innovative technologies and emerging retail models, enabling consumers to choose the most convenient route to meet their immediate needs and ensure they get everything on their list this Christmas.
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