Thursday, 27 December 2012

Multi-Channel Retailing – Threat or Opportunity?

Multi-channel retailing means offering the customer the opportunity to make transactions with one store or business, via different channels, all of which are linked.  These can be offline stores, websites, mobile friendly sites, mobile apps and all allow the same level of service including browsing, buying and returns.  Gone are the days of a single route to market, now the communications from a single brand are multi-faceted.

Where multi-channel retailing is most successful, as in the case of Next, John Lewis and US stores such as Neiman Marcus is when the various routes have been built up from a customer centric point of view, not just offering different ways to shop, but keeping the brand in firm view as one that the customer can trust, wherever they shop from.

Threat or Opportunity is of course a really daft question, as obviously multi channel retailing presents a huge opportunity to all, enabling customers to shop via whatever channel they choose, and the wider the offer, and the more buying options, the greater the gains will be. 

Take Boxing Day, for example, with retailers such as Selfridges and John Lewis seeing record levels of sales, both online and off.  It’s easy to say, ‘ah, but they have all the money to develop both their bricks and mortar stores and online shopping sites’, but consider that they have proved a point;  those offering different ways for people to shop are doing best.

As Andy Street managing director of John Lewis, said: “It’s been a record Christmas for John Lewis, and that’s been between shops and online.

“Customers are using the two absolutely hand-in-glove. We saw it played out this year – the retailers with the best integration between shops and online have done the best.”

My clients tend to be a lot smaller than these huge retailers, but they all embrace the multi-channel approach, recognising that a tiny store in London (or anywhere) can offer its wares to anyone, any how, anywhere in the world with a simple but usable and well designed website which will work on multiple platforms. 

There are few limitations on where you can sell, and those small stores who resolutely keep to offline and complain that online is stealing the market are losing the plot, and their businesses, rapidly.  One of the greatest difficulties is that those who have waited the longest may have left it too late to recover by an online push.

Here’s a article written in 1999, titled The Death of Retail.  As a precursor for 2012 it has a strong vision. Practically clairvoyant.  And seriously worth a read.

Multi-channel retailing is the only way forward.  It is moving exceptionally fast and retailers from small to large need to embrace its potential.

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