Are fashion e-tailer’s attempts to venture offline Missguided?

It’s a great time for online retail. Hailed as the most convenient means of shopping, ecommerce is in the midst of one of its most successful seasons yet – December alone saw a sales increase by 15.1% compared to the previous year.

However, it seems that this level of success isn’t quite enough for some retailers; in a bid to grow even further, they’re looking offline too. Fashion e-tailer Missguided recently announced plans to open its first store in the UK, and it’s not the only one – the likes of Boohoo and Fabletics have also taken their first steps into bricks-and-mortar.

And who can blame them? News headlines about the death of the high street are fast becoming replaced with success stories. Services such as click-and-collect are providing stores with a new lease of life, with John Lewis being the latest retailer to praise the shopping method’s contribution to its strong festive trading figures. Meanwhile, some are even calling out for store opening hours to be extended, with 64% of retail workers in London supporting longer trading on Sundays.

So yes, heading to the High Street offers great potential for an online retailer. But there some things to factor in if they wish to replicate the great customer experience they create on the web.

Unlike ecommerce, the store has a helping hand in converting sales: staff. Personal service is something that gives bricks-and-mortar an edge over online shopping, so it’s essential that retailers make the most of this opportunity.

Offering great bricks-and-mortar customer service relies on the retailer’s ability to give consumers the same informative experience as their digital platforms provide. Yet, we recently found that 43% of shoppers voiced frustrations with inconsistent answers from staff. In order to address these communication challenges in-store, some leading retailers are equipping staff with tablets. This way they’ll have access to product information and stock availability at the swipe of a finger, making it far more likely that they can address customer queries.

This is especially important at a time when most shoppers enter the store with some level of product knowledge. Recent research from omnichannel retail specialist iVend Retail revealed that 68% of European consumers will research online before visiting a store – and clued up customers expect far more from retailers. These shoppers have already done their research, and just want to touch or try the item before committing to a purchase. In this case, staff members are far more likely to be faced with technical queries regarding the item, rather than general product information. In this case, a tablet device will prove even more valuable to your staff – they can’t be expected to understand the ins and outs of every store product on their own after all.

And not all shoppers restrict their online research to the comfort of their own homes. Instead, many are relying on their mobile devices to have a quick browse in-store, either for more product knowledge or to compare it with those available from other retailers. During the festive period alone, 41% of shoppers ‘showroomed’ when buying gifts in-store.

This shopper desire to use mobile in-store, combined with staff usage of tablets, means more devices devices than ever are connecting to store networks. Retailers that have not invested well enough in their network may be faced with a whole host of issues; slow running technology, intermittent connections and, in the worst case, complete connectivity blackouts. Not only will this be extremely frustrating to those working at the business, but most importantly, customers will be left disappointed too. Then, all the good work that retailers have done to blend their store and online experiences will be completely undone.

The battle for consistency between online and bricks-and-mortar shopping has been raging for years, and retailers like Missguided must tread carefully to ensure their in-person experience lives up to the digital hype. Much attention will have been paid to the marketing, store layout and such like, but it’s the network underpinning their store that will define their ability to deliver what customers want.




Welcome to the store that never sleeps

Switching off is not a concept that most consumers are familiar with. We’re trying to fit more activities, across more channels, into every single day. In fact, some would go as far as saying we’re ‘always-on’.

The Always-On Consumer was a term coined by Vivaldi Partners last year to describe the 48% of shoppers who go online multiple times each day, using an average of 3 devices and logging on from at least 3 locations, invariably engaging with retailers and brands along the way.

There are 5 types of Always-On Consumer:

Social bumblebee – extrovert, spontaneous, avid social media user

Mindful explorer – early tech adopter, minimalist, very loyal to favourite brands

Deal hunter – discount driven, listens to social media for tips

Focused problem solver – sticks to tried and tested brands, prefers store shopping

Ad blocker – ignores online ad content, mostly shops online for household staples

One thing they have in common, though, is the relentless pace with which they interact and digest information, not to mention the expectation that their needs will be met right there and then.

Because of this, it’s not just consumers that are always-on – retail stores must be too. The high technology dependence and low tolerance levels of today’s shoppers mean any interference in their offline encounters could result in defection to another, potentially more reliable brand. The store can’t ever afford to sleep on the job.

This so-called ‘interference’ could consist of a lack of goods availability, or a long queue at the checkout. Some retailers may claim these are inevitable experiences in the bricks-and-mortar environment, though, in-store technology enables store associates to smooth over such shortcomings; I’m thinking specifically of using mobile POS for queue busting and mobile clienteling.

However, these devices – and fixed POS terminals too – are all reliant on the store network, which underpins every element of the customer experience. Connecting devices is crucial to delivering seamless customer service. The disruption of store networks can cost retailers thousands in lost sales, while the damage caused to consumer relationships can be far greater, and longer lasting.

With this in mind, organisations cannot afford to rely on outmoded networks that are not optimised to cope with the multi-channel, multi-device demands that modern retail places on the store. They need a business-class network that can cope with high traffic, high pressure trading – across multiple sites in many cases.

Remember: the Always-On Consumer is an unforgiving being. Get caught napping even once, and these high spenders are likely to take their business elsewhere.

How to utilise mobile to benefit your retail business

September marked an important milestone for omnichannel retail, as IMRG and Capgemini revealed mobile retail traffic has overtaken desktop activity for the first time in history. A third – 36% – of all UK e-retail sales now come from tablets and smartphones.

While this is important news for pure plays, the unstoppable rise of mobile is set to have a much wider impact than online retail alone. For example, retailers who don’t invest in responsive websites, which change format to fit multiple screen sizes, will find themselves falling behind their competitors.

The increase in mobile engagement is also affecting retail stores, for instance the widespread acknowledgement of showrooming – consumers coming into the store to browse before buying a product online instead. Shoppers are using their smartphones in the aisles to check they’re getting the best product, price and package, and this has left many retailers fearing a decline in High Street sales.

Rather than panic, however, retail businesses should be embracing the new opportunities for interaction in all channels that mobile is presenting. For instance, the adoption of tablets has led to an acceptance of mPoS technology, which enables sales staff to create a personal in-store experience centred around the needs of the customer.

It also opens up new means of communicating with customers – whether that’s mobile optimised email marketing, text messaging or even the latest wave of geo-based push notifications. As House of Fraser’s recent trial of beacon technology inside mannequins demonstrates, enhancing the customer experience through mobile can be a huge customer draw as well as an upselling tool.

While much of the mobile technology that retailers will be able to use to benefit their bottom lines is still in its infancy, the latest IMRG statistics underline something very important: now that we’ve passed the mobile tipping point, retailers cannot afford to ignore its influence.

The high street is fighting back so make sure your store is ready for the battle

Last year’s eCommerce stats are quite astounding – in the UK alone, online spending topped £91billion – that’s a growth of 16% year-on-year.

With this continued online growth in mind, which has been further bolstered by the use of smartphones, retailers are currently re-strategising, trying to determine how the store now fits into the changing retail landscape.

Although eCommerce is booming, there is still an overwhelming need for the store, as is evidenced through the current good feeling on the high street and increase in multi-channel retail – a report from Southampton University commissioned by the Government’s Future High Streets Forum found clothing and footwear sales increased in town centres from 20.5% in 2007 pre-recession to 25.4% in 2013.

For some types of retail business, if showrooming hasn’t been considered at this stage, it should be now. The modern consumer is increasingly choosing to use both online and in-store channels to shop – perhaps browsing in-store first and making the final purchase online. So give your staff the tools to encourage the completion of purchases in-store – use tablets which allow in-store ordering of products that might not be available at that particular location. This also enables up-selling and the ability to move with the customer to any point in the store.

The store should be seen as a destination in its own right so employing an inspirational store design could entice more customers inside. Think about what your store offers that other don’t; consider design, layout, quirky displays and technology. Could you be the first retailer with a merry-go round in-store or could you install a dedicated chill out zone serving free refreshments? Think outside the box.

Under pinning all of this, is how the store is connected. All elements of the business must be able to communicate with each other to give a unified view of all store operations. Get this function right and the rest will follow.

What’s the real reason card payment usage in the UK continues to grow?

The UK Cards Association has this week announced that consumer card spending surpassed £0.5 trillion for the first time in 2013. According to the report, nearly 75% of all retail spending is now through credit and debit cards in the UK, a big increase in comparison to ten years ago, when it lingered below the 50% mark. This has left us questioning, why?

Electronic payment methods have been around long enough now, that people of all demographics have felt comfortable using them for some while – so this is a doubtful cause for the constant increase, although it may be a contributing factor.

Some may blame consumers’ growing reliance on credit cards, however there has actually been a 16% fall in outstanding borrowing on credit cards since its peak in 2005, as the economy finally seems to have made a turn in the right direction. If anything, this would impact negatively on card payment figures.

In-store payment innovations such as contactless and MPoS give consumers a more exciting format to use and they may be encouraged to pay this way than through traditional methods. The ease of both payment types offer customers more convenience and speed – two things that consumers are increasingly craving.

Hand-in-hand with an increase in card payments is the growth of e-commerce – if you want to shop online, you simply have to pay electronically or you can’t make an order. With the growing spectrum of delivery and collection options being made available, paying online is sometimes the best option for time-pressed consumers.

The world is becoming ever more electronic in all aspects of life and consumers want the convenience and ease of paying by card. For large establishments, this can sometimes pose a problems with updating systems and connectivity on a large scale, but ensuring all parts of a business are networked in together streamlines the process and will inevitably impact on a company’s bottom line.

Get visual in-store

With the proliferation of mobile retail causing the popularity of e-commerce to soar, shopping in-store is becoming more-and-more about the experience, with digital visual merchandising being used as a beacon to entice customers to visit.

One of the latest trends in digital visual merchandising is wall mounted screens, sometimes covering an entire wall, which retailers use to stream product offers, videos of catwalk shows and idyllic scenery, in keeping with brand messaging.

Not only is this eye catching and interesting to a consumer, but it can offer value in terms of showcasing products and offers in the store. An example of this is the video wall display in or on the front of Hollister stores, with live feeds to Californian beaches, enhancing the brand vision and customer experience.

Digital content can also be displayed on tablet devices, with retailers streaming videos to customers as well as offering their entire product catalogue without having to stock it in-store. This expands the range of products on offer, no matter the size of the store. Removing the barriers between bricks and mortar and e-commerce sales and driving profit for both channels.

Other developments include virtual rails and the virtual changing room. The virtual changing room uses a full length mirror, which allows shoppers to select a retailers latest look, size up the virtual garments on their body, receive information on stockists and prices, and print their shopping wish list – all at the wave of a hand, although it is yet to take off.

The virtual rail concept integrates digital rails with physical rails of clothing, allowing customers to place orders for free delivery through points in the store, via sales assistants’ iPads or on their own mobile device using the in-store WiFi.

To support all of this innovative technology, retailers must have robust store networks in-place which, amongst other things, provides a fast and secure Wi-Fi connection. Wireless network connections enable retailers to stream audio, video and visual content in-store, on TV screens and via media devices. The network also ensures that all information is consistent and updated across channels including stock inventory.

As retailers are increasingly adding these services into stores to enhance customer experience, having a trusted network in place that can offer on all levels, is imperative.

Retailers need a network fit for a multichannel environment

The in-store network is fast becoming the life line for retailers that need to reach their customers through multiple channels and devices. There has never been a better time for the store to rediscover its strengths as the flagship for the retail brand as, regardless of which channel a consumer decides to shop via, the store remains a key destination at any stage in the shopping journey.

In particular, the millennial generation (generation Z) take a different approach to shopping, one that centres round the store. Before making a purchase it has become common practise for this group of consumers to visit the store for the purpose of browsing, taking pictures of products to send to friends, log onto the Internet through tablets and kiosks and update their Facebook pages with latest locations – all before deciding what, when and which channel to make a purchase.

While eCommerce provides convenience, consumers actually gain more enjoyment from the physical shopping environment. However, at present it lacks lustre in comparison to product availability and the capability to evaluate prices online. To counteract customer disappointment, new technologies have recently been deployed to bridge this gap and entice tech-savvy consumers back in-store.

The emergence of these new interactive technologies are also delivering value added services within the store environment. These include payments on the spot, scanning of product tags using a mobile for detailed information and connection to the online channel.

However, it’s a double edge sword as generation Z have high expectations once in store. Some retailers have worked hard over many years to satisfy these demands, but  the bar has risen: retailers need, if they can, to identify every customer as they arrive and provide each of them with a personal experience, regardless of the reason behind their visit.

This is where the store network comes into play. Retailers cannot forget the technology behind the scenes that enables all this functionality – the retail network. It is the crux of in-store operations and will continue to be so, as the in-store environment evolves into an interactive hub, where consumers can look, touch, feel, test products and engage with sales staff armed with devices delivering in-depth knowledge far beyond the capabilities of a lone sales assistant.

Is sunny weather generating a bright shopping forecast?

The UK skies have been filled with a strange, yellow globe during the past fortnight – after months of rain, the sun is finally shining! With temperatures increasing and the official start of British Summer Time bringing lighter evenings, lifted spirits are having a positive impact on High Street traffic.

Latest figures from retail intelligence company Springboard revealed that during the week ending March 16th 2014, UK High Street traffic increased by 8.2% on the same period the previous year, with retail parks enjoying a 3.3% increase as well.

So why does the sunshine cause a spike in sales? Firstly, consumers are much more likely to go out and about if the weather is pleasant. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, the change in season marks a shift in buying patterns. Instead of stocking up on woolly hats and hot water bottles, spring’s arrival prompts people to invest in new outfits, garden furniture and barbeque equipment in anticipation of the summer heat.

Many retailers are already seeing a surge in certain product sales due to changing conditions; Karen Millen noted strong dress sales for the week ending 16th March, for example. The hospitality industry has also seen a welcome boost from impromptu trips for coffee, drinks and dinner in the sunshine.

Even if consumers aren’t setting out to buy anything in particular, some retailers believe that weather-induced happiness prompts impulse purchases. This can often be the case if the first weekend of the month, after most people have been paid, coincides with a sunny spell.

With temperatures and sunshine levels set to increase over the coming weeks, there is a huge opportunity for retailers to capitalise on the latest wave of consumer enthusiasm. Their secret to success will be marketing the right products and creating a seamless customer experience in-store, maximising sales by ensuring product availability and a joined-up service.

How can retailers keep customers in store and engaged?

With recent figures confirming that retail footfall rose 1.6% year-on-year in January, its best performance since December 2011, how do retailers keep customers in store once they have taken the time to step inside?

Figures released by the BRC show that shopping centre footfall grew by an impressive 2.4% in the month of January, with shoppers coming in their droves to avoid the rain and no doubt cheer themselves up with a bit of shopping.

Whilst this is good news, retailers can’t rely solely on the weather to boost sales. They need to find ways to entice shoppers to make a purchase once in store, delivering an unforgettable experience that they will want to have again and again.

Whilst the promise of free WiFi and the use of mobile PoS is an enabler to get staff interacting more with customers – improving customer service and increasing sales, can such offers deliver the same impact across all sectors and retailers with varying target audiences?

It was recently uncovered at NRF that 18 – 35 year olds, known as the ‘millennial generation’ are not as impressed with the stereotypical in store service, as some may think.  What this generation crave is for retailers to be both inventive and joined up with their offering, with the expectation for store staff to be helpful and knowledgeable.

However, retailers need to consider their entire target audience, not just this one group. One thing all customers have in common is the desire for a better shopping experience, but individual needs differ, so achieving a balance of innovative technology and in store services that cater for all needs is imperative.

Payments in an omnichannel world

The payments industry has seen many innovational developments over last few years, from mobile payments to contactless transactions and the mobile wallet – providing the consumer with a plethora of ways to pay. But which of these should retailers look to adopt? And where do they start when considering payments across their many channels?

The real issue is that after cash, credit and debit cards, and to a degree PayPal, none of the other payment types are really ubiquitous – or at least they aren’t yet. Retailers face the problem of not knowing which technology to invest in. Get it right and you have a head start on your competitors, get it wrong and at best the investment capital is wasted, at worst you have lost ground on your competitors.

A survey by Lightspeed Research reports that 59% of today’s customers are the omnichannel customers of the future. These consumers were broken-down into three categories, including: value-focused followers, data-hungry tech enthusiasts and tech-savvy social shoppers. To empower and influence these customers into shopping in the store environment, retailers must ask themselves two questions. How will new and emerging technologies affect customers? How will the retailer be able to support these initiatives?

Mobile point of sale (POS) is a key enabler of omni-channel functionality. Mobile POS allows the customer to conveniently research options, search for deals and check out without going to a central POS. It also empowers store staff to assist the customer while they are considering a purchase, delivering product information and the capability to check stock and place an online order if an item is out of stock. These aspects of mobile POS demonstrate the retailer’s commitment to customer satisfaction.

Being able to securely report on data from all sales channels, without any PCI implications also starts to open up the possibility of building customer loyalty profiles – with insight into who a customer is, where, when and which channels they shop via. This scenario will enable retailers to be a lot more targeted with their service offering, adapting to meet the needs of the omnichannel consumer.