When a customer is presented with the myriad of buying options likely to be available today, two distinct factors come into play – time and money. The crucial question is ‘how much time is the customer willing to spend to save money?’ Retailers need to understand this often fine balance. By offering a seamless, convenient customer experience that leads to a hassle-free purchase, less price-competitive outlets can prevail.
The current retail setup is full of hassle. Consider that, despite the progress that’s being made, people still take time off work to wait for deliveries, shoe shops don’t have your size in stock and supermarkets run out of beer when England are playing. How can retail become truly ‘omni-channel’ before these basics are refined to absolute convenience?
With advancements such as 4G mobile connectivity and tube Wi-Fi capabilities looming, customers are being empowered with the ability to do more during what was previously ‘digital downtime’. Practical use of technology is also giving consumers more and more power, and forcing decision makers to re-evaluate what is influencing buying decisions.
Parts of the jigsaw are already in place, with websites such as Pinterest and The Fancy providing consumer-driven recommendations and the RedLaser price comparison app that scans barcodes and gives a breakdown where it can be purchased and, crucially, where it is cheapest.
Before long consumers will be presented with even more powerful tools; imagine an app that tells you where to buy a pair of shoes you’ve seen someone wearing and taken a picture of. Humans will be playing the role of the ‘walking billboard’ like never before.
For these reasons, ensuring a commerce strategy is seamlessly omni-channel is of vital importance to businesses wanting to keep up with the front runners. There are several issues physical retailers need to address before they can effectively play their part in the omni-channel experience. A combination of archaic legislation and slow reaction to the digital revolution means that store opening hours are restricting convenience and preventing genuine omnipresence.
The omni-channel cannot live and breathe when one of its major components shuts down for up to 16 hours over each 24 hour period. An ‘always open’ policy is surely a fundamental foundation in the challenge of both supporting and competing with the flexibility the Internet offers.
Another crucial consideration for retailers facing shrinking incomes and rising rent costs is ‘do we really need all this space?’ Retailers don’t need to have all their products on show in-store. Traditionally a clothing store presents customers with every size variation. Not only is this obliging them to spend time trawling, it saps floor space. In this case, why not just display one of each product and keep the rest in storage?
Switched-on retailers will recognise that people want to buy things when they are walking down the street, or when they are absent-mindedly browsing on their phone with their Sunday morning coffee. They want to buy things without having to go out of their way; the process of making a purchase should have no effect on the customer’s routine (unless they want it to of course). Tesco, with its online marketplace, looks as though it could be going about this in the right way. The company is effectively ‘planting the seeds’ for the seamlessly omni-channel retail rainforest we should be striving for.
With physical retailers, the clue for the big opportunity to remain relevant is in the name – ‘physical’. No other channel can provide the ‘feel factor’, and customers still love having a reason to ‘go shopping’. A business’s central focus needs to be on allowing customers to do what they want, when they want.
It is not and never was about channels competing with each other. Resistance to change and fear of the unknown is holding retailers back. Those that recognise and act on the fact that consumers are being given an increasingly powerful ability to ‘choose’ will emerge victorious from the high street rubble.