The way we shop is changing at a rapid pace; with our expectations heightened and more places to spend than ever before. Bricks-and-mortar brands have launched online platforms, whilst ecommerce giants like Amazon and Missguided are recognising the value of the physical store. As online and offline worlds collide, it’s clear to see there’s merit in both experiences.

Customer expectations drive change, and one of the challenges retailers’ face is delivering a seamless experience across multiple channels. According to Forrester, the average number of touchpoints shoppers under the age of 50 have with a retailer and its brand — before they actually make a purchase — is about 3.5.

The pressure to perform is acute. Stuart McMillan, deputy head of e-commerce at Schuh, commented recently: “There is a fundamental change in the model of e-commerce. Consumers don’t see the difference between stores and websites – they just want the brand experience.” Customers don’t forget a bad experience easily; research by Salesforce found that 36% of consumers are put off by an inconsistent experience across mobile, online and in-store. What are the key areas brands need to focus on when it comes to the omni-channel customer experience?

Make the Most of Mobile

It’s undeniable that mobile shopping has taken off in recent years, and should be a key focus for retailers. According to research by eMarketer, the UK retail ecommerce market is set to exceed £81.55 billion in 2017, of which £35.31 billion will come from mobile commerce.  When you consider our Unfaithful Consumer research found 54.9% of people value convenience above all else when it comes to shopping, it’s understandable that today’s promiscuous consumers are embracing the ease m-commerce offers.

Despite the shift in traffic and adoption of mobile, retailers are struggling to convert. The industry average cart abandonment rate on mobile is 69%, as factors such as a poor user experience, slow load times, security concerns and the small screen size means people aren’t making it over the final hurdle.

Slow loading m-sites cost customers and ultimately revenue. Research by Aberdeen found that even a one second delay in load-time equals a 7% loss in conversion, and we know from the development of ShopAppi, our mobile shopper loyalty programme, that a lengthy sign-up or payment process can decrease conversion rates.

There are simple solutions to make it easier for customers, for example including ‘.com’ prompts when entering an email address, or a numeric keyboard prompt when filling in card numbers. These are simple quick wins which could be the difference between keeping or losing a customer. The next step for retailers will be developing custom-made keyboards which will further speed up the process for the customer.

Link Online Channels to the In-Store Experience

Online and offline channels shouldn’t be viewed in isolation. According to a study by Google, 72% of consumers visit a shop to check out a product, with plans to purchase online. So whilst online shopping has grown in popularity, there is still appeal in the tangible in-store experience and retailers need to understand how they can link them together as part of the overall customer journey.

The first step is to understand how people view both channels in insolation. Do consumer expectations vary in-store, versus online?

What people value, and expect, from e-commerce is speed, ease and convenience. Despite the surge in e-commerce, it’s important to know that customers still value the bricks and mortar experience. According to Adyen’s survey of 2,000 UK shoppers, 75% of consumers said it is important to see, sample, touch and try on items.

Driving footfall is essential to keep physical stores a viable and relevant part of the overall customer journey. With customers shopping online becoming commonplace, retailers with a bricks-and-mortar presence need to give them a reason to visit. Where the opportunity lies is the immersion of customers in the brand experience, with engaging displays and great service.

Energise the In-Store Experience

Retail isn’t just about the big brand chains and department stores. Tapping into millennial trends, pop-up brand Apatchy has installed a photo booth into its stalls in Cambridge and Birmingham.  The booth can send images direct to users’ social media channels and – if approved – to the brand’s, too. A physical strip is also printed out and gifted to the customer, and a copy is displayed on the shop wall. This is just one way that a brand can make shopping feel different and exciting for consumers – as well as a clever way to encourage social marketing through sharing.

In-store is where retailers can engage with consumers in a memorable experience that either leads directly to purchasing, or produces a cognitive bias for the brand, with customers choosing to buy goods online later. A report by Squire Paton Boggs found 43% of shoppers said that they are likely to spend more money in the future with a retailer who offers a meaningful shopping experience in-store.

A good in-store experience can start with excellent customer service. And the consequences of bad service shouldn’t be underestimated; our research found that 57% of UK consumers will choose another retailer if they experience rudeness from staff on the shop floor. One way to deliver a good meaningful experience is through using technology to enhance the customer experience. Retailers should look to Apple for inspiration, which is often applauded for its best-in-class employees who seamlessly use the brand’s devices and products as part of the customer service.

Best Practice in Omni-Channel

The first step towards doing multi-channel well is understanding what each channel should bring to the customer experience.  Online is where consumers go to research and browse at a time and place that suits them, so an optimised mobile site is essential if brands want to capitalise on this shift in consumer behaviour and traffic. On the high street, stores need to be attractive destinations for customers, with engaging displays, great service and experienceso be truly omni-channel, there needs to be a seamless link between these channels.

Click-and-collect is a prime example of how this can be achieved. It has expanded the role of physical stores; evolving them from places of discovery and purchasing, to fulfilment centres for online ordering. This presents both an opportunity and a challenge for retailers – while driving footfall is good for business, the investment needed to fulfil click-and-collect is yet another cost to the bottom line.

Amazon made a significant step in this area with its  acquisition of Whole Foods. The industry is waiting to see how the firepower behind Amazon’s e-commerce and fulfilment expertise will transform the organic food chain. However, there are already limitations in how far they can challenge traditional grocers, as neither organisation is currently equipped to deliver frozen goods.

Preparing for the Future

As consumer appetite for online shopping shows no sign of diminishing, retailers need to keep pace with their expectations.  It’s clear there is still room for both online and offline channels, but with competition ever-increasing, retailers need to do all they can to deliver goods and services in the way customers want them.

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About The Author

Managing Director at Webloyalty Northern Europe

Guy Chiswick is Managing Director of Webloyalty, Northern Europe. He has 17 years’ experience in marketing and advertising and has worked for some of the industry's biggest brands as well as emerging start-ups. Guy leads a diverse team of experts focussed on client development and category growth, and has spearheaded Webloyalty's retail and multichannel client engagement strategy since joining in 2010.