Retailers are not providing a consistent experience across the different ways in which they sell and are not adopting a multichannel approach, despite consumers who shop in-store, online and via mobile spending at least three times more than those who use only one channel, according to new research seen by Marketing Week.
The study by Simpson Carpenter into multichannel retail puts online and in-store shopping head to head and asked 1,000 shoppers who have visited the stores and websites in the past three months, for feedback.
The results show that John Lewis is the most consistent and integrated across channels, with 54 per cent rating the website and store as offering the same experience. This is driven by the brand’s ability to translate its core values of customer service, range of merchandise and hassle-free experience in-store and online, according to the report.
Other retailers are also moving towards a more integrated approach. Just under half of those surveyed say that Marks & Spencer provides the same online and in-store experience, while 46 per cent said the same for New Look and O2 and 44 per cent for Tesco.
Both John Lewis and Marks & Spencer have released figures suggesting that multichannel customers spend three times more than those shopping via one channel.
The research also reveals a major difference between retail sectors. Department stores offer the most integrated experience with 45 per cent rating the website and store as the same overall, compared to the technology and mobile phone sectors, which score 36 and 35 per cent respectively.
However, when shopping for health and beauty products, the in-store experience is much better according to 49 per cent of respondents, compared with only 10 per cent who rate beauty websites. DIY brands are also rated more highly for their in-store experience with 48 per cent preferring bricks and mortar and 12 per cent opting for the website.
Rowena Patterson, a consultant at Simpson Carpenter, says: “It’s interesting to see that multichannel can be done and some retailers are doing it well but equally there are many that are not there yet.”
Patterson suggests that it is down to the nature of the business that DIY and health and beauty consumers rate the store experience higher than other channels, since shoppers prefer an interactive sensory experience.
Health and beauty brands are about seeing, feeling, smelling and touching the products as well as getting face-to-face advice, which presents a challenge for websites. Meanwhile, DIY customers may want a personal visual assessment of quality, colours and advice from staff. The ability to get the product immediately is also a key driver of purchases.
However, not maximising a brand’s reach via other channels, such as websites, could prove damaging for sectors where one method dominates, suggests the research. It finds that of those who had a bad online experience, 26 per cent would go elsewhere.
“In the health and beauty sector in particular, the competitive set is so broad. The likes of Amazon and major supermarkets are competing very strongly,” says Patterson. “This means that these sectors cannot afford to ignore multichannel because they are missing out if they fail to harness the power of the web for their customers.”
Paul Kendrick, marketing director of N Brown Group, which includes brands such as SimplyBe and Jacamo, encourages brands to look at past innovations in commerce to see the importance of varying channels to reach consumers.
He says: “Look back 10 years at those adamant in sticking to a certain channel only, in particular in books and music. Customers wanted to use an online channel rather than in-store and if you don’t offer that, someone else will. As we have seen with major booksellers and HMV in the music sector, Amazon is stealing a huge chunk of their business.”
Although shopping in-store suits DIY and health and beauty customers, there are ways to optimise online to benefit the brand. For example, DIY brands could use augmented reality on websites to see how products would look in people’s homes and gardens through augmented reality on websites, or provide tips and advice online.
Kendrick suggests that brands could tailor their offering online and in-store by finding out why customers are is shopping in a particular way. For the DIY sector, if products can be obtained immediately, a click and collect service may work.
It is also important for retailers to ensure they have an integrated approach with the rise of mobile and tablet commerce. A survey from IBM has shown that the percentage of consumers using their mobile device to make a purchase during the run-up to Christmas 2012 is already more than 15 per cent – up from 9.8 per cent on the same day in 2011, while mobile traffic is more than 20 per cent of the total, compared to 12 per cent on the same day in 2011.
Chris Withers, head of IBM smarter commerce, says: “Retailers must, and indeed are, investing in mobile-optimised sites for the different devices such as iPad, iPhone and Android. However, it is as important to understand what consumers are using mobile sites for and for which parts of the shopping journey.”
He adds: “Finding product information or comparing prices is a very common use of smartphones in the store, but the same consumer wants to use their tablet on the sofa in the evening to browse Pinterest to find exciting new products. Smart retailers will recognise both the device and shopping journey stage to make it easy for the consumer.”
However, Patterson at Simpson Carpenter believes that many retailers are still trying to understand how to use mobile and tablets in the shopping experience but it is essential they do as growing numbers of people conduct research through these channels.
Brands also need to ensure that the store and online offering are matched and optimise the role of each channel. In-store has the advantage of being able to provide ‘retail theatre’, having staff available to answer questions as well as products being available to take away immediately. Online has the benefits of wider product ranges and in-depth information.
But the most important aspect of multichannel shopping is making the choice between online and offline positive rather than negative. The research shows that bad online experiences drive people in-store and vice versa, says Patterson.
“If a customer visits a website because they can’t bear to go in-store, for example, we don’t feel that is a positive choice for the channel. This is a risk to the brand because it will not be able to optimise multiple channel usage if customers are choosing one over another for negative rather than positive reasons.”
… Of consumers say John Lewis stores and website offer the same shopping experience
… Of respondents say they would go to a store when an online experience is negative
… Say shopping for health and beauty is better in-store compared with 10 per cent for websites
We ask marketers on the frontline whether our ‘trends’ research matches their experience on the ground
Urban Retreat (beauty salons and apartments)
In my industry, it’s all about touch and experience so I’m not surprised that the research shows 40 per cent go to the store and 26 per cent elsewhere when an online experience is negative.
For in-store customers it is important to find out where they heard about your brand. If someone says they researched online and decided to come to you, that person is half way in. That is the most powerful thing, knowing why a customer is there and how they have been influenced.
As a sector, we don’t make the most of those people because we talk to them in the same language as a person who is browsing. We talk about engaging consumers online but when they come in-store, we don’t ask how they have heard about us, we just assume they’re there to buy a product.
Consumers searching for information often go online first. If you don’t grab them in that space and someone else is more informative and makes their products more desirable, you risk losing clients before they even reach the department store.
So we try to be informative online. With our apartments, people can see pictures of them on our site and imagine themselves there. With our salons, we put staff and product profiles online, and use our website to engage people more in our printed collateral. Consumers will be able to see the person who will be doing the treatment and view more information on the products used.
N Brown Group
Online shopping is more functional than the high street in many ways; the theatre and enjoyment still sits in the high street. Critically, the experience of the brand online and in-store should be the same. There will be some difference, for example online is likely to have more product ranges, but overall there needs to be consistency.
This can be achieved by having absolute clarity about what the brand stands for and delivering that through product range, pricing and promotions, visuals, and language and themes. It means that everything in your brand thinking is being pulled through each channel.
The key is to find out what the customers are using the devices and channels for. On tablets, customers are browsing products, on mobiles they’re checking accounts and tracking orders. All of these are good as it gets them in-store and the more frequently they do that, the more long term benefits there will be in building a relationship with the brand and business.
We are trying to ‘join up’ our stores for a multichannel view and that includes being able to recognise the customer in all the channels. The stores will become more of a showroom that allows customers to touch and feel the products.
Although we are mainly a home shopping business, we believe the high street is going to be around for a long time because it’s all about theatre and entertainment. Nine times out of ten people don’t go out and buy stuff they actually need, they buy stuff they want.
Head of smarter commerce
In the past, the experience across channels for a single retailer was varied, driven largely by technology constraints. As a result, the experience of the retailer’s brand was inconsistent. As competition has intensified from new entrants and existing retailers going online, the retailer brand has become very important as the vehicle to acquire and convert consumers who can often buy the same product in other places and compare prices in an instant.
The channel strategy will be different for each retail product category but also for different brands within that category. For example, a DIY retailer whose brand promise is about having a large range at low prices will have a very different channel strategy to the DIY retailer whose aim is to help the consumer design and decorate their living room. In both cases, the retailer will probably want to drive consumers in to stores but their use of digital would be very different.
For example, a low cost brand might focus on making products easy to find online, price comparison information and regular replenishment of frequently purchased items, while a lifestyle DIY store might create apps that enable customers to create digital mock-ups of their room, change the colours of the walls and find furniture and fittings to match.
The one constant is that consumers will expect all retailers to have a digital presence that is consistent with their brand positioning.