By Daniel Hunter

The evolution of retail from high street to shopping centre, from offline to online and from local to international has gathered pace in recent times
due, in no small part, to the demands of shoppers.

The desire to shop for whatever I want, whenever I want and wherever I want has never been stronger. Succeeding in today’s crowded marketplace are the retailers who understand the key role of having a consistent deliverable and message.

Omni-channel retailing is just a phrase, until retailers actually operate
seamlessly between their online stores and their physical stores. The
business needs to facilitate this relationship by ensuring the stores are not
penalized for taking a return from an online shopper and should also be
credited for the sales related to an item defined as a click and collect sale.

Taking this one step further, the retail location should also benefit from the
online sales made within a specific catchment area of the store. Store staff
will engage and promote the online offering far more if they have a stake in
its success.

The role of technology in crossing the divide between store and online
cannot be overstated. Stores are now offering access to their full product
portfolio in store via a dedicated terminal or via free wi-fi. The forward
thinking retailers understand that shoppers will use their mobile device in
store to gain access to the store’s website and to competitors. As opposed
to resisting this, they are embracing it by seeing the smartphone as a
means of communicating with the shopper, whilst they are standing in
store.

The shopper wants the benefits of the store experience whilst shopping
online, and the opposite holds true - the shopper wants the efficiencies
created through shopping online to be replicated in store. The store can
address this by allowing orders to be placed in store and collected at
another store, or dispatched to the address of the shopper’s choice.

Online, the ability to collect in store has to be offered within an appropriate
timeframe. The look and feel of the website has to reflect the essence of
the retail brand, without appearing cluttered or confusing. This has to be
achieved across a multitude of devices, and a realization the usage
patterns from desktops to laptops to tablets to smartphones varies
dramatically is critical. Device specific websites and apps are necessary to
capture the mood and mission of the shopper at the time of interaction with
the retail site. Having a one size fits all solution may be less costly in the
short term, but will prove to be an error in the longer term.

Omni-channel needs to move from being a conference buzz word to a real life way of working. Shoppers don’t think in channel terms, they think in retail terms — where will I shop? Be that online or offline or somewhere in between, the shopper wants the retail experience to be without borders; physical or technological.

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