It’s a frequently-bandied about assertion, and one that does carry a lot of weight, can probably even be proved to an extent, that the rise of online shopping is slowly killing the high street. Recent years have seen a string of big names going into administration, Nicole Fahri being one of the highest-profile in the clothing industry, coinciding with a massive increase in shopping over the web – around 18% between September 2012 and September 2013 alone.

Now whether or not you agree with that argument, and to what extent, it’s irrefutable that the retail industry is experiencing rapid changes, led by the consumer and enhanced by digital possibilities, that is forcing brands to massively change the way they operate. And among the most important of these revolutions is the rise of multi-or omni-channel shopping.

Today the traditional sales funnel model is redundant. The customer can begin the sales journey at many different points – in-store; window shopping; the brand’s website; online marketplaces such as eBay; social media; search engines, blogs and more. One study found that 86% of people now shop over at least two channels.

Embracing multi-channel retail gives brands many more ways of reaching their market, to collect data; build loyalty, and increase profit.

Convenience Stores

mobile-retailThe saying goes that necessity is the mother of invention, and one thing we all need from life is a little more time. So multi-channel shopping is born of convenience.

People see something in store they like, but the size or colour they want is out of stock, so they order it online instead. Or they want to know what other people like them thought about an outfit before they buy it, or they’re hunting for a better deal than what’s on the store label. Or they just want to avoid the crowds.

Whilst noting that many shoppers prize convenience over low prices when shopping online, a recent report from PricewaterhouseCoopers found that 60% of people worldwide will research products such as clothing online before making a purchase in-store. This demonstrates the crucial advantage that retailers with a bricks ‘n’ mortar presence still hold over online-only retailers.

Everyone Loves Presence

1255748_Austin_Reed__Regents_Street__6_Not everyone wants to shop online. In fact significant numbers of people have an aversion to it. Many men feel uncomfortable with the idea of buying something without physically trying it on, and only around two-fifths of the over-55s market tend to shop online with any regularity.

There are other reasons why it still makes sense for a brand to retain a high street presence too. Some people prefer to browse online and buy in-store – in some cases they don’t trust the payment process, or they resent having to hand over personal data. The reverse is true of course – at Christmas 2012 more than 20% of UK shoppers were found to have gone into a shop purely to check something out that they were considering buying over the web.

There’s also another reason – convenience, again. Someone sees a dress, or a pair of shoes, they want on a brand’s website, but rather than paying a delivery charge which can sometimes be steep, or having to wait in at a set time, or run the risk of having to return it and pay to do so, they would rather have it delivered to the store and go and pick it up. Given how easily this can be done on a lunch-hour from work, after the school-run or whilst doing the weekly grocery shop, it’s no surprise how popular click ‘n’ collect is. Over a third of John Lewis’ online sales at Christmas 2012 used this process. What’s surprising is some big brands still don’t offer it.

People want this flexibility afforded by true multi-channel retailers. Here we can clearly see online shopping supporting and enhancing traditional bricks ‘n’ mortar outlets.

Why Brands Should Encourage Multi-Channel

Because of the aforementioned range of entry points, the effects of multi-channel shopping on revenue, footfall and site hits is very difficult to accurately measure. But brands are persisting for the simple reason that it clearly makes good economic sense to do so. Debenhams, one of Britain’s best-regarded online retailers, believes that its multi-channel shoppers spend significantly more than those that only use a single channel, and admits that it values them more as a consequence.

Econsultancy suggests that to make a success of multi-channel shopping, retailers must pay attention to 3 key elements:

  • The amount of time people spend either instore, or on the brand’s website (and individual pages)
  • How the store / website arranges the information customers need to make a purchase
  • How the store / website directs the sales process, from arrival to completion

So, how can brands encourage multi-channel shopping from their customers? Here’s a few tried-and-tested ideas:

  • Offer click ‘n’ collect, if not already doing so.
  • Ensure all brand websites are fully-optimised for mobile browsing and purchasing.
  • Provide free WiFi instore to encourage web research.
  • Some brands might consider laying on some complimentary tablets for people to wander around the store, fully-loaded with brand-enhancing apps.
  • Barcode scanner apps can instantly connect the shopper trying on a dress at the mirror with the store’s web site containing product information, or advice for accessorizing.
  • Add value with unique content. For example the Blippar app, used by chains such as New Look and Nike, lends augmented reality to the shopping experience. Other apps alert customers to special offers or events when in the vicinity of a store.

In Summary

Bricks ‘n’ mortar outlets aren’t finished yet. They do hold less importance than they did previously, sure, but they now have new roles to play, enhancing the multi-channel experience as much as the website does. So they shouldn’t be neglected – faded carpets, sloppy window-dressing, poor stock-control can sink revenue just as much as a crashed website.

Some brands will continue to fall by the wayside as time goes on. But those that survive will be more resilient, more technologically-savvy, more flexible, and more in tune with what their customers actually want.

Sources:

Drapers Online
EConsultancy
Internet Retailer
Ecommerce Statistics Report