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Opinion: Consumer uptake is driving cross-channel retail and changing store designs says Agnes Berridge of Pragma

Not long ago, when retailers were all-powerful, competitive advantage was mostly about keeping up with – or staying ahead of – the Joneses; watching rival pricing and expansion strategies and trying to outpace the field. Now, with consumers seizing control of the retail agenda thanks to the advent of personal technology, retailers need to keep a grip on every customer touchpoint.

Cross-channel is a critical focus for retailers in both digitally advanced and immature markets. The exponentially changing mobile behaviour of consumers around the world validates the need for retailers to advance their digital capabilities, while retaining integration with their greatest assets – their stores.

Retailers the world over can’t afford not to engage, but are they staying on top of consumer trends? A new report from Ebeltoft Group studied cross-channel retailers in 16 countries, spanning mature and emerging markets including the UK, US, Brazil, India, Singapore and Romania. It provides benchmarks for the industry generally, and in sectors such as DIY, electrical goods and fashion in particular.

The key findings make interesting food for thought. With 80% of retailers agreeing that cross-channel is one of their main priorities, they will be pleased the report notes steady improvements in the breadth of cross-channel capabilities of participants. Notable improvements have been seen in click & collect, which is evolving rapidly. Some 64% of the retailers audited have this capability in place (compared to 53% in Ebeltoft’s 2012 report).

Meanwhile, Social-Local-Mobile (SoLoMo) cross-channel capabilities show the highest level of development overall (59% penetration). Furthermore, connected store capabilities improved by 15% compared to 2012, but remain in moderate development.

Globally, US and UK retailers lead the way, showing the highest level of cross-channel development. US chain Best Buy was hailed the worldwide Cross-Channel Champion.

Cross-channel retailing is definitely gaining a foothold within senior retail management teams, with many executives surveyed declaring it one of the main routes to competitive advantage. They also believe, by and large, that cross-channel capabilities will become the “new normal” in improving retail customer experience.

The findings indicate that cross-channel capabilities and alignment across online, bricks & mortar and mobile channels is certainly growing, albeit at a moderate rate currently. Overall, countries with a higher ecommerce penetration show greater current potential for, and often higher development level of, cross-channel capabilities. Many factors contribute to this correlation, including consumer shopping behaviour, retail management innovation and risk taking, as well as retailers’ ability to develop a strong business case in markets where digital retailing is advancing rapidly.

Some day soon, most retailers will have an array of cross-channel functions but few will stand out as standards for excellence. The difference will be made in attention to detail, starting with an overall strategy vetted at board level and a keen focus on the customer experience across all channels.

 

Agnes Berridge is associate director at Pragma – a St Ives Group company and UK member of Ebeltoft Group, a global alliance of 21 retail consultancies. 

 

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