Shopping Habits Are Changing, but ICT Can Keep the In-Store Experience Relevant

Gary Barton
Gary Barton

Summary Bullets:

  • If the customer is ‘always right,’ then retailers need to accept that e-commerce is not wrong.
  • The boundary between online and in-store shopping is more blurry than it first appears.

‘Showrooming’ is one of the latest neologisms buzzing around media outlets in the UK and elsewhere.  The word describes a phenomenon that most of us have been aware of for some time and probably many of us are guilty of more often than we would care to admit.  The ‘crime’ is that of walking into a high street store, looking at a product, even trying it on/out and then buying the product online for a lower price – increasingly often via a smartphone whilst still in the store.  The problems of brick-and-mortar costs (rent, rates/tax, energy, staff, etc.) versus online stores are also well known; so how do modern retailers seek to turn around this trend?

The answer lies within the old aphorism that if you can’t beat them, then join them – and technology can provide a remedy as well as the malady.  O2’s recently launched ‘Joined Up Customer’ proposition provides a range of services designed to bring retailers closer to their customers.  O2’s success in the retail space is perhaps not surprising, as the smartphone is now a key tool in the battle for consumer spend.  For example, O2 has used its highly successful Priority Moments customer rewards programme as a medium for driving footfall back to the high street and into specific stores with offers that are only valid in-store.  O2 has worked successfully with a number of retailers (e.g., McDonalds and Debenhams) to deliver in-store/in-restaurant WiFi.  In particular, O2 has worked with Debenhams to use free WiFi to help bring the high street and the online shopping experience together.  O2 and Debenhams have ensured both that WiFi is easy to use and fast (slow connections will only frustrate impatient customers) and the WiFi service gives customers access to further information about Debenhams products and to various special deals as the customer walks around the store.  Joined Up Customer also includes tools and services to improve customer services (e.g., contact centre) and transactional services such as O2.

It should also be noted that O2 is not the only provider delivering products that can help retailers adapt.  BT’s ‘Lighting Up the High Street’ range of services remains one of the most threatening retail propositions in the UK, whilst Level 3 and Easynet are both delivering compelling hosted e-commerce solutions that can be used to enhance the in-store experience.  Companies cannot look to change human nature, so they should seek to engage with technologies that sit most comfortably with how customers want their shopping experience to be.  The retail streetscape in the UK and in many other countries across the globe is changing, but the human desire to ‘try before you buy’ is not.  Those brands that adapt most quickly are those that are most likely to survive.

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