The gap between the online and offline shopping experience has been a cause for concern for retailers ever since digital technology gave rise to eCommerce websites and changed the shopping landscape forever. With new innovations emerging all the time, it’s been difficult for even the most high-profile retailers to work out how to master both individually, never mind how to get them working hand-in-hand in a seamless omnichannel approach. Instead, many businesses have simply feared the digital shopping experience, with that fear most notoriously manifesting itself through Showrooming.
However, as the years have passed some have managed to devise game-changing approaches, and across the last few months, we’ve seen some particularly impressive and inspirational inroads made into solving the problem.
One of the most important digital retail omnichannel innovations of 2015 came from Boots’ ‘Beautiful You’ campaign. The idea was a simple one that took the best of the in-store experience and digitised it, making it more cost-effective for the company and easier for the customer to use. Boots took its in-store advisor service online and asked customers to fill out an online questionnaire via an app before they even enter the store. If the customer then visits one of Boots’ stores, a member of staff can access the questionnaire and that kick-off a consultation based on what the questionnaire says.
It’s a good move that’s as simple as it is smart. By offering the online questionnaire, the retailer has sped up the in-store process, making better use of their staff’s time and critically making sure the customer gets a smoother and better experience. After all, without the time constraints that can be placed on them in store, anyone using the online questionnaire can provide in-depth, and well-considered, answers, ensuring that the member of staff can deliver better recommendations based on those better answers. Adding further value, any products that are recommended are held in the user’s online account, making it easier for them to repurchase if they wish.
Results have been impressive so far. From an initial group of 90,000 customers who have used the app, Boots found that 77% are filling in the questionnaire, that in-store conversions are 20% higher than its targets, and that online conversions through the app are double those achieved through the boots.com website. It’s all down to an understanding that the business is powerless to force people through one particular purchase journey, and that success in 2016 means offering them as many different touchpoints as possible. As Matt Poole, head of omnichannel at Boots said: “It’s not our decision how customers integrate phone and in-store.”
It’s a refreshing lack of hubris that other brands are displaying as well in their approach to the omnichannel. Following the launch of its new app late in 2015, McDonald’s has begun mapping its online sales against its offline sales to understand how both channels are performing, both in and of themselves, and against each other. The decision was triggered by the huge success of the app, which has been downloaded over seven million times since its launch and has enjoyed an encouraging frequency of use rate. Unsurprisingly, McDonald’s expectations have increased as the app has taken off.
“We have an incremental sales expectation based on the digital platform,” Steve Easterbrook from the fast food giant told investors in January 2016. “We can see [the app] is an incremental business driver… We do see it contributing to business growth and becoming a platform that will deliver for years to come.” And what’s the key asset driving the success of the app? Data. “We’re able to follow consumer behaviour because we can read the data coming from it,” Easterbook added, “and as we build the capability that’s going to be increasingly compelling.”
There’s nothing particularly revolutionary about this concept, neither as a loyalty scheme (offer people vouchers and money-off discounts and they’ll visit your store) or a digital innovation (in the United States Dunkin’ Donuts has already found a measure of success here), but McDonald’s is pulling it off well. Like the Boots app, the McDonald’s omnichannel offering features genuinely useful functionality such as menus, nutritional information, and a store locator, so customers can feel empowered to make informed purchasing decisions. It then offers one-off discounts as a hook, and gradually increases the offers (and therefore the personal data being offered) as the app gains more use. The end result is a modern, multi-channel experience that benefits the customer as well as the company.
Most impressively of all, John Lewis has woven technology fundamentally into its in-store experience to create a shopping trip that’s neither fully physical nor digital, but a blend of both: the very definition of omnichannel. Across the last few years, the company has been gradually improving its digital and mobile offering, making sure it understands the platforms and how its customers use them. This has allowed John Lewis to gain an insight into people’s purchasing habits and then tweak the in-store experience accordingly.
The concept is simple. If customers are looking at an item of clothing or a piece of homeware, two things are possible: 1) They are interested in more items and have a real desire to purchase something in that area 2) They may not be able to find what they’re looking for, because it may be out of stock or unavailable in that store. This is where digital comes in. By adding QR codes and calls to action to in-store signage that guide people to its website, John Lewis can offer greater value for money and ultimately inspire more sales.
It’s all about being useful, said the company’s Director of Online Trading Mark Felix. “Shops to some extent are a bit of a black hole, and by putting in technology such as this you can really start to join the dots to understand where the customer comes in and what they are doing. We need to help guide customers and tell them to use technology to have a better omnichannel experience and you do that by offering free WIFI in all stores then you need to give them signposting and messaging to tell them what to do next… It’s not only about giving customers the tools to help them have the omnichannel journey but it’s also about helping point them and guide them to the next best action.”
All three of these examples have effectively been acts of conversion optimisation. This is typically something done online to improve the user’s interactions with a website and make it easier for them to navigate from it and ultimately buy from it. By incorporating digital technology so fundamentally into their in-store experience, Boots, McDonalds, and John Lewis have all taken a critical first step into the omnichannel world, where the concept of separate online and offline spheres are joined by a new sphere that joins the two. It works for the companies themselves, but as with all good user experience, most critically it works for the customer. And if they get the experience they’re looking for, either online, offline, or in the omnichannel, they’re likely to return and keep spending.
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