Can omni-channel deliver a retail experience?
Greater competition for a hassle-free retail experience is on the agenda for both internet only and bricks and mortar retailers.
Consumers are looking for a service that works around them rather than having to wait for delivery or visit a physical store. This means that for retailers with an internet platform next-day delivery has become a thing of the past, and same-day, afternoon, collect in store or even same-hour delivery options have sprung up across the retail landscape. Businesses such as Doddle have started to spring upon the High Street, at train stations and on university campuses across the country to help meet the demand for convenient delivery and returns.
However, faster-than-lightening services, such as Amazon's 'Prime Now', come at a cost. Retailers must either provide their own delivery service, involving inevitable capital expenditure in logistical services, or source delivery partners which have permanent availability – which itself does not come cheap. But is it worth it? These flexible delivery services are of particular importance to internet-only retailers - they are often their sole opportunity to impress consumers with spotless customer service. Designated time-slots, text alerts and tracking devices are therefore essential in enhancing reputation and winning customer loyalty.
As logistics catch up retailers cannot rely on simply impressing with delivery times. Omni-channel selling has pushed out the traditional bricks and mortar model to become the status quo amongst certain shopper demographics - using push-notification, apps, Twitter and telephone sales alongside the usual web pages and high street stores. But retailers are constantly searching for new ways to enhance their customers' experience. Pinterest and Instagram now offer services which directs consumers to the seller of certain products uploaded onto their platforms, whilst House of Fraser has revealed that this Christmas will see the launch of its 'shoppable windows', which will allow customers to shop even when the physical store is closed or busy.
So are we, as well as our banks, moving towards a "contactless" shopping experience?
According to the retailers you just cannot beat old fashioned customer service. The Chairman of Starbucks, Howard Schultz, recently suggested the company's baristas should "be very sensitive to the pressures customers may be feeling, and do everything they can to individually and collectively exceed their expectations". Whilst a little flowery, Schultz does have a point; developing a relationship between a brand and customer can be a tricky and often expensive business, so day-to-day courtesy and manners make all the difference - to both the customer and the company's bank balance.
David Johnston, a Partner at RPC, recently experienced exemplary customer service in a children's clothing retailer which might explain why good retailers will survive and prosper on the High Street. After having left a gift and card in the store, the manager personally delivered these items to his home address, and took the time to greet his wife by name on her return to the store. This level of service should not be underestimated, especially when it comes to branding. Word of mouth is one of the most powerful advertising tools available to a company and you can probably guess where David's nieces and nephews will be getting their Christmas presents from.