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The evolution of retail


t used to be that shoppers made purchases only in stores and through catalogues, then the internet came along. Now we have everything from websites, apps and social media sites; smart phones, laptops, tablets, etc, being utilised as sales

channels, and the emergence of ‘omni-channel retail’ as a catch-all philosophy is directly linked to the rise of the omni-channel consumer in a technologically advanced world. Many retailers have chosen to reformulate their supply chain strategy in order to match this shift in consumer demand. Supply chain visibility is also absolutely necessary, and preparing your business for an omni-channel presence can require a heavy investment of both time and money.

The new breed of consumer may access any of these channels as their shopping method of choice, and so the challenge for the retailer is to work towards providing all of these options simultaneously. Meeting the challenges of providing real time, accurate stock availability information; efficient online ordering and payment systems and smooth delivery methods is vital. In return, retailers who adopt an omni- channel approach have the advantage of being able to track customers across all those channels. They need all retail channels to work from the same database of products, prices and promotions. Bricks and mortar stores and websites become extensions of the same supply chain. The customer has the option of how and where to buy to suit their own requirements whether that be price, ease of product research or convenience. Purchases may be made in store which have been researched online, where detailed descriptions, technical specifications and customer reviews are easily provided. Or vice versa, customers may “showroom” to see a product in the flesh and perhaps seek the advice of store staff before ordering online. Such preferences can be encouraged by the use of store- specific promotions or online-only discounts.

The changing consumer One could argue that the emergence of Amazon, and the easy-to-shop online experience it provides, was truly what changed customer habits for good, and the recession increased the volume of price-motivated purchases. The main question

60 Toyworld

The last few years have seen the integration of technology into the retail environment gather pace, and many retailers are pouring their resources into providing an enhanced level of customer service that utilises the growing number of channels modern technology has opened up. Tom Roberts reports.

being asked by high street retailers is how they can differentiate themselves from huge online players such as Amazon when they find it hard to compete with them on price. The answer lies almost certainly in the level of personal service a retailer can provide; a more knowledgeable consumer has made it incumbent on retailers to be more knowledgeable about their merchandise. Certain websites make searching for and sorting products extremely quick and easy which has perhaps made many consumers lazy in their bricks and mortar shopping habits. However it can be argued that browsing in store and receiving personal service is a true pleasure for others. One ‘size’ will not fit all. Social media has opened up yet another channel of communication, and has become a focal area of communication in the many retail markets between retailers, suppliers and manufacturers. This method of communication as a business tool is still in its relative infancy and views on its effectiveness are mixed, nevertheless many companies deem it sufficiently important that dedicated staff are often assigned to oversee this area and the number of companies that exist to tailor bespoke social media strategies for

organisations is growing rapidly. While some major retailers have huge resources at their disposal to provide the omni-channel experience, the financial reality of setting up such a level of service makes it much harder to achieve for smaller businesses. Besides, it’s practically impossible for a single retailer to be utilising every conceivable channel to communicate with consumers. But the concept has become so ingrained in the retail zeitgeist that it even has its own conference in the shape of the British Retail Consortium-organised ‘Omni-Retailing’ conference. 2013’s event saw speakers from Argos, eBay, Marks & Spencer and AKQA addressing an industry audience on how retailers today need to be “serving the evolving customer”. Tracking the show’s hashtag on Twitter, it’s obvious that the conference provided interesting ideas to its delegates, who hailed from some of the largest and smallest businesses operating in the retail environment today. What stuck out most to me however, was a memorable tweet from one independent retailer who said: “I’m going to try some of these ideas in an on-a-budget way.”

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