The secret to successful store expansion

Online retail is no stranger to positive headlines. In fact, it sometimes seems that all we hear about in the industry is the strength of ecommerce.

And it’s these types of stories that have put stores in the spotlight for the wrong reasons. Although 90% of all sales still happen in physical shops, there seems to be far more of a focus on the aspects of bricks-and-mortar that aren’t doing quite so well. For example, in the last few weeks alone, BHS, Greggs and Dixons Carphone have been making headlines regarding store closures.

One of the key reasons that stores close is because they don’t resonate with shoppers; in the interactive, instant world of digital commerce, store layouts and processes can appear outdated. However, this is something that can be amended – and there’s a huge appetite amongst retailers for getting the store right and growing its presence. New research by CBRE has revealed that retail estate expansion still remains high on the agenda, with 83% of retailers adamant that store growth will not be influenced by the rise of ecommerce this year. After all, there is no online substitute for seeing, touching and trying items before purchase.

The benefits of bricks-and-mortar haven’t gone unnoticed by e-tailers. Already this year, we’ve seen their eyes move towards the high streets, with the likes of Missguided announcing its first offline stores. Yes, the business is doing very well trading as it is, but if they want to grow even further, it makes sense to offer a physical experience as an alternative too.

So how can retailers optimise their stores for profit growth – and potential expansion if they get their formula right? For starters, today’s connected consumer is all about convenience and, as we well know, that doesn’t necessarily mean choosing between online or offline retail. Instead, shoppers want to switch between the two at different stages of their journey, and they need to know that retailers will allow them to be flexible in this respect.

Achieving this level of agility means incorporating some of the elements that shoppers love about digital platforms into the store experience. Some retailers are already way ahead of the game, launching concepts that aim to convey the ‘store of the future.’

House of Fraser, for example, recently experimented with shoppable windows, whilst Tommy Hilfiger has brought the runway to the store using virtual reality headsets. These are pretty ambitious of course; the store must focus on perfecting the basics before taking this kind of leap. Investing in more mainstream technology such as mobile POS is one good example of connecting the bricks-and-mortar experience through online functionality.

Another key consideration is the interaction between ecommerce and store activity through click-and-collect. Even though many retailers already offer the service, there are still elements of the process that frustrate customers. Perfecting the ‘collect’ part should now be a major focus for stores, making it a pleasant experience for those finalising their purchase. Enabling speedy payments technology, such as contactless, will be handy here, as well as ensuring the right amount of staff are there to keep the queues running smoothly. Streamlining the click-and-collect element will increase the opportunity to encourage further impulse purchases.

Of course, not all online browsing will take place at home. In an era of smartphone addicts, it’s now habit for consumers to rely on their devices whilst in a store too. Vodat International recently commissioned some research that revealed 54% of shoppers use their smartphones to compare prices in the aisles, 46% look up product information and 44% for personal reasons, such as checking social media. The bottom line is that consumers expect to be able to connect to the web whenever suits them – and that includes within the bricks-and-mortar shopping journey.

It may seem obvious, but there are still retailers that do not invest properly in strong WiFi to encourage this behaviour in controlled circumstances. In fact, 3 in 10 shoppers don’t find the current standard of WiFi unreliable. Retailers with sub-par WiFi are not only at risk of frustrating their customers, they are also losing a valuable opportunity to understand (and react to) their behaviour patterns. Provided they select the right provider, retailers will be able to interact with, influence and capture insight on consumers when they log on to the network.

It’s great to hear that retailers are feeling optimistic about the potential of stores, especially at a time when ecommerce is threatening share of sales channel. Gone is the time where stores and online were two separate things; the future of the store is very much intertwined with digital interaction. If they go about it in the right way, retailers can now harness the power of ecommerce in the physical environment, and use it to boost profitability.

Stay tuned for our new report – Battle of the bandwidths: why customers are won and lost on the strength of retail networks – which will provide even more insights into the connected consumer.

Is fashion a step too far for Amazon?

For many retailers, Amazon can feel like an undefeatable giant. As if its achievements to date aren’t sufficient, the e-tailer has announced its first foray into private-label fashion brands – but is this a step too far?

Undoubtedly, Amazon has a loyal customer base. The site has 244 million active users and is widely praised for its convenience, prices and extensive choice of products. Jeff Bezos and colleagues also have deep pockets when it comes to fulfilment, which will ensure fashion followers get their purchases as quickly as possible, regardless of cost.

However, Amazon’s widespread appeal may also be its Achilles Heel. If their audience is everyone, how are they going to segment that vision for the highly targeted world of fashion?

To be successful, Amazon is going to have to compete with online upstarts like ASOS and internationally-established retailers like Topshop, which both have a strong following from style-savvy shoppers.

Equally, because they are focused on fashion and fashion only, the likes of ASOS and Topshop have had time to really get to know their customers – not just what clothes they like, but how they shop, what their interests are, what media channels they use. This has enabled them to craft a brand based around a clear picture of their target market.

So, is Amazon trying to conquer too much with a foray into fashion?

If anyone is going to make a new venture yield returns, it’s going to be Amazon. After all, the e-tailer has good knowledge of fashion already, having sold clothes since 2008. It added a series of high-profile names to its repertoire last year, including Hugo Boss and Gucci, and opened Europe’s largest fashion photography studio in London last summer.

Amazon is also investing in a knowledgeable leader to increase its chances of private-label success; the former womenswear boss of Marks and Spencer will be heading up the launch. With a background in how fashion and consumer behaviour, she may have what it takes to ensure Amazon’s new foray is completely customer focussed.

There are two things that will ultimately determine its success. The first is how well it can use the wealth of data it generates to map its fashion offering to potential customers.

The second is a problem that faces all online retailers: how well it can promote its private-label range without potential customers being able to feel and try garments.

While online is ideal for items such as electronics and entertainment, clothes are very visual, and many consumers still treasure the act of going into a store. Fashion shopping is a leisure activity, and asking a sales assistant to bring you a different size is always going to be easier than buying something in two sizes and sending one back – no matter how quick and simple the returns service.

Only time will tell whether Amazon lives up to its self-described vision of ‘the ultimate fashion destination’, but it needs to apply the innovative thinking for which it’s renowned to triumph in a world which values style AND substance.

Do you think Amazon will succeed in the fashion market? Tweet us your thoughts.  

 

Inside the mind of the modern consumer

Understanding customers is no easy job for retailers today. What consumers want is changing all the time, as is the technology that they rely on as part of their shopping trip. It’s no wonder that many businesses are struggling to keep up!

It doesn’t help that retailers are inundated with headlines that profess the latest insights into consumer habits; which ones can they actually trust? Here, we’ve detailed the most recent retail research that retailers – online and off – should factor into their customer experience strategy.

“They are impatient” – Vodat International

5 minutes; that’s how long a customer will wait for their query to be answered in-store. That doesn’t leave much time for a staff member to gather the information they’re unsure of, before that shopper abandons their journey completely.

How to respond

Ensure that your workforce receives regular training regarding your product offering – especially if new items are added. For an extra helping hand, why not implement tablets in stores so that answers are always at staff’s fingertips?

“They expect personalisation” – iVend Retail

A third of shoppers think they get personalised offers online, but not in-store. Perhaps this is one of the key reasons why ecommerce seems to gaining its sales share of channel.

How to respond

Yes, online has automated capabilities that allow loyal customers to receive information that is specific to them – but there is something the store can do better.  The ability to see, touch and try products cannot be replicated online, and even better, the presence of staff means that shoppers can get even more insight into the products they’re interested in. There’s nothing more personable than face-to-face interaction, so encourage conversation to give staff the opportunity to upsell products that might compliment a customer’s purchase.

“They tap-to-pay” – Visa

The number of contactless transactions made in the UK last year increased by 250%, according to the payments specialist. It’s suggested that this is largely due to the spending limit rise in September, which saw consumers able to pay for goods of up to £30, as opposed to just £20.

How to respond

The speed of the payment method fits the profile of today’s busy, impatient shopper. Therefore, now is definitely the time to ensure that your store not only accepts contactless, but encourages its usage.

You’ll also find that the same NFC technology in contactless terminals works with some mobile payments services, e.g. Apple Pay. As availability widens, consumers will come to expect all retailers to offer the method to them in-store. Those that don’t are likely to be viewed as outdated pretty soon, while those that do will see queue times accelerate and customer satisfaction soar.

Of course, if you’re planning on implementing such technology, you’ll want to make sure that your card payment network security is up-to-scratch. You can find out how to ensure this here.

“They go mobile” – Episerver

Mobile shopping is already playing a huge part in how people are shopping this year; 59% of Brits used their device to purchase items in the January sales.

How to respond

Shopping on a mobile device is meant to provide the ultimate convenience for consumers, allowing them to browse retailers wherever they go. With this in mind, it’s essential that you make your own mobile experience easy – ensure that you’re website is properly optimised, and that the payment process is neither lengthy nor fiddly.

“They click-and-collect” – Atomik

Shoppers might love mobile, but not quite as much as click-and-collect. A recent survey saw it beat mobile as the method that impacted their 2015 shopping experience the most.

How to respond

The role of the store has evolved from being just a sales channel, it now has to deal with a constant flow of click-and-collect orders. As most retailers now offer the service, they need to make sure that it’s the best it can be to stand out from so many others that offer the same. Training staff, implementing dedicated click-and-collect personnel, or adding an interactive kiosk are all ways to better optimise the store for click-and-collect. Of course, with all this extra technology, retailers must invest in a network that’s robust enough to support it.

Have you seen any recent retail statistics that you think offer real value to retailers? Then share them with us on Twitter via @Vodat_Int.

 

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.

 

 

 

5 ecommerce websites to watch on Black Friday

Retailers with a transactional website are about to face their biggest test of the year: Black Friday, which takes place on November 27th. Spending is predicted to reach £1.9 billion – a 17% increase on last year – in the UK, with a third of sales taking place online, according to Visa Europe.

Already we’ve seen one casualty of a surge in online trading, as Argos’ website tripped over when it launched its ’12 days of Black Friday’ promotion. However, the good news for the brand is that it has a few days to learn lessons and put contingency plans in place before ecommerce activity peaks.

For other businesses, though, the litmus test is yet to come – so what should we expect from the digital retail community on the big day?

It’s definitely worth keeping an eye on Amazon, ASOS, Debenhams, Marks & Spencer and Next this Black Friday. A recent study by Aimia crowned these retailers the best five UK ecommerce sites for customer experience.

The survey identified personalisation as pivotal to the online journey, as although these sites are rising to the challenge, more than half of consumers feel they are still being targeted with irrelevant product suggestions.

However, tailoring promotions based on previous buying behaviour is the tip of the ecommerce iceberg – some retailers are still struggling to get their basic offering right, particularly under pressure.

During peak trading events like Black Friday, the number one priority is being present and capable of delivering on customer expectations, and the resources needed to achieve this should not be underestimated. As Schuh’s head of ecommerce, Sean McKee, remarked in a recent Black Friday video interview, “be available for the customer, because the customer is absolutely wanting to buy products from you”.

Too many retailers experienced issues with their website last Black Friday, resulting in slow loading times, long waits and costly periods of downtime. In order to avoid this in 2015, concerned businesses need to ask themselves the following questions:

  • Is your hosting environment flexible enough to accommodate surges in demand?
  • Do you need to increase your server capacity to cope with Black Friday traffic?
  • Does your hosting company know it is Black Friday, and what the impact could be on digital activity?
  • Have you got the infrastructure in place to monitor Black Friday traffic in real-time, and respond to emerging issues?

At the end of the day, come Black Friday, price trumps everything else. So while personalisation might be the long game, on 27th November ecommerce retailers need to focus on availability and efficiency to maximise market share.