Our Mediocre Multichannel Mission

In celebration of the fact that my Forrester Boss, Patti Freeman Evans, was over this week in London, we thought we’d go on a multichannel retail shopping tour of London to see just how well some major UK retailers are integrating their on- and offline channels and enticing their shoppers into engaging with them online.

The answer is sadly, not very well at all.

Hitting Oxford Street on a sunny Friday at lunch time, we performed an eyes-on tour of a rough cross-section of some of the better-known UK brands. We went looking for exciting new uses of technology disrupting the in-store environment. Examples of beautifully integrated online/offline/mobile channels placing the customer at the heart of the brand experience. Innovative applications of technology that seamlessly blended the digital and physical brands, enticing shoppers into engaging with these premier retailers both now, and later when they got home. Or even, how excitingly, via their mobile phones.

So while a hungry band of devotees of the fruit-flavored tech-god gathered outside the Apple Store, not realizing that just round the corner they could get their paws on a new iPad 2, sans queue, we started our shopping trip.

Flippancy aside, we were looking specifically for how well multichannel retailers are integrating physical and digital channels.

The results were (depressing) surprising :

Nike = awesome. Greeted by a massive video wall as we entered, we found a store that centered on the customer experience. Up on the top floor we found demos of the Nike iPad fitness app. Best of all was a fully integrated, in-store custom sneaker designer service powered by a slick bank of Macs and crewed by extremely knowledgeable, friendly, and helpful sales staff. Design your sneakers in-store, save them to your “Locker,” work on them later at home, and then order them. The only black mark was that Patti couldn’t design her new Air Force 1's in London and pick them up in NYC, but overall, a brilliantly integrated retail experience.

John Lewis = an acceptable benchmark. After 2 minutes in the store, we found a very user-friendly digital price checker. John Lewis promises to price-match other retailers, so my iPhone bar code scanner didn’t help me get a bargain there. There was a click-and-collect service with a well-placed, dedicated collection counter and plenty of clear signage encouraging you to check out the website, including one massive sign that dwarfed Patti. They even have a plush, inviting Internet-ordering lounge where staff can help you order today for home delivery or for in-store collection tomorrow. You were left in no doubt as to your shopping options, and they made it easy enough to reach out to the Internet while you were in store.

Carphone Warehouse = not quite Best Buy. Though it is clearly not bringing best practices over from the mothership yet, it did have some in-store video displays and some references to its website. We had high expectations of a tech retailer with such an interesting heritage in its US parent for innovation like QR codes, engagement with its online experience, and some level of integration.  Sadly not.

French Connection = missed opportunity. On the plus side, its brand is very consistently represented across store and the Web. But considering it has a beautifully executed website rich in slickly produced video, the only noticeable link to the website is in 8-point font at the bottom of its in-store style magazine. Hmmmm.

United Colors of Benetton = epic fail. Despite an enticing logo on the back of its style magazine encouraging us to hold it in front of our webcam to unlock cool new content, one of the sales girls didn’t know what a webcam was and the other was a bit too busy stock-checking (on Friday lunch time!) to help us much. 

All in all, a bit surprising. Considering that 72% of online adults in the UK buy products on the Internet, UK retailers seem a little shy of reminding their consumers that they can continue to shop from the comfort of their own homes. 

Is this really the best we can do ?

I’ve challenged Patti to do a similar eyes-on floor walk of some New York stores. Let’s see if they are making a better show of things.

Comments

Hi Martin, Love the use of

Hi Martin,

Love the use of pictures here -- would like to see more analysts integrate the use of pictures in their blog posts. I think it adds a dimension to your points that could not be made with words.

Ben

Best Buy

Best Buy will have to also impress customers across touchpoints in the UK with an agile commerce approach if they intend to win vs. key competitors Comet and Dixons: http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2011/mar/28/best-buy-new-store-openings

Visual vs Physcial

Martin,

Brilliant article to point out how business missing out the opportunity to compete in 2-D dimensions.

However, on-line shopping still lacking of the human touch of product and interaction with people. When technology can mimic and invigorate our senory orifices, I would say it is a ture "virutal" shopping experience.

Opportunity

You are completely right. Personally I think that's where the multichannel retailers have a huge opportunity - but that requires a focus on customer service from store people passionate about the brands and products a retailer sells, who also understand that on-line exists as well. Our experience last week was that only Nike and John Lewis had infomred their staff in store to speak to customers about on-line.

I'm in

Okay - I accept the challenge. Will tour tomorrow and post the results from NYC's 5th Avenue.

Interestingly, I got home from this trip a little disappointed not to see more digital integration in the stores we visited only to pick up the New York Times Sunday Travel Magazine to find nearly every ad had a QR code offering:
- more pictures
- more content
- more offers
- more more...

which was exactly what I was hoping, nay expecting to get in-store. So travel advertisers are taking up the charge. Let's see if NYC retailers are doing the same.

brilliant insights

liked the piece and laughed at the "epic fail" result for benetton... aww...