Open all hours: Technology is making us a nation of 24/7 shoppers

Ahead of The Drum’s Retail Breakfast, in association with Intermarketing Agency and Rakuten Attribution, we take a look at some of the key issues set to be discussed around the future of retail.

Even as the UK government looks to allow local councils to repeal Sunday trading laws so larger shops can open for longer, there is a very real sense that the country is already a nation of 24/7 shoppers.

Advances in e-commerce from retailers’ websites and online market places, supply chains, distribution centres, payments security and data collation and analysis, coupled with the proliferation of broadband usage and smartphone penetration, has led to a new breed of shopper. And the effects aren’t just being seen online.

Today’s consumers want what they want, when they want it, be that in-store or online, and retailers are having to rethink the way they interact with, and market to, them.

No longer does the customer always start in-store and buy in-store, or on the PC from viewing to basket; they switch seamlessly between multiple devices to research, review and order products, electing for delivery, click-and-collect or reserving in-store. The possibilities and permutations are many and growing.

Technology underpins this changing reality from the high street to e-street, and the savvy retailer, say experts, is one that understands an ‘omnichannel-plus’ world where the consumer is at the heart of the exchange.

As James Collins, managing director of Rakuten Attribution, explains: “The future of retail really depends on the consumer these days. It is much more of a consumer-led experience and retailers must acknowledge that.” He says Rakuten, which works with brands including House of Fraser, sees two to three different devices being used in every sale, with mobile a part of over half of online transactions.

It is a “matrix-like” relationship, where retailers must ensure that the complex interplay between its systems works seamlessly on- and offline. Jamie Allan, managing partner of the full service Intermarketing Agency, concurs. However, he warns that “a lot of people talk about omnichannel but can’t deliver”.

Mobile is becoming ever more important and brands and retailers must nail their mobile and tablet sites, many of which are lagging behind customer habits.

Advances in mobile payments, such as Apple Pay, will only drive consumer adoption upwards. The mobile, that most personal of devices, is fast building a bigger bridge between the physical and digital shopping experience.

If the journey to point of sale is changing then so too, dramatically, is point of ‘possession’. Collins says that Argos pioneered the click-and-collect model, central to a customer-centric approach, with retailers including John Lewis (in partnership with Waitrose), Amazon and Tesco following suit.

The days of lugging bags of shopping around town could equally be changing. Already centres such as Westfield in London allow customers to have their purchases from around the mall stored for collection, whilst Allan points to a recent test between Audi, DHL and Amazon, which saw purchases delivered to an owner’s car boot, ready to be driven home.

Amazon’s Prime Now allows those in central London to purchase and receive goods within an hour, whilst other retailers are investing in lockers at prime commuting sites such as Tube stations. Retailers including Oasis and Argos meanwhile offer almost instant delivery in London through eBay-owned Shutl. Its fastest delivery stands at 13.57 minutes. Drone deliveries are no longer viewed as science fiction but retail future.

Exciting times, but as Allan cautions: “The reality of click-and-collect or delivery does not always live up to the promise.” He points to problems around mega events such as Black Friday where fulfillment still often falters. “If the customer experience isn¹t there, if you haven’t delivered on the promise, then trust and brand equity is at risk.”

Collins adds: “It’s not just buying the product,­ it’s delivering on time, packaging to ensure the product isn¹t damaged, where they leave it if you’re not in. These are all pitfalls for retailers who don’t get it right.”

Data will continue to play an important part of tomorrow’s retailer. Rakuten helps retailers optimise their marketing to make it more effective by collecting data from in-store, online and retailers’ CRMs to help understand the customer experience and pinpoint the sort of customers they are and the value of those customers. Collins says the future in his world is about getting quicker and smarter.

For instance, if the data that a potential customer has hovered on a particular product several times but hasn't purchased then real-time offers could make the difference to cementing that sale. Likewise, a customer walking past or through a store could be sent a message offering 10 per cent off.

Intermarketing Agency has started trialling such initiatives through iBeacon technology with some of its clients. Offering real time information and offers is undoubtedly a customer boon but retailers must beware ­ if such messaging becomes intrusive and detracts from the experience then users will switch it off.

Retail activation in all its forms is growing more sophisticated with technology. A recent Intermarketing Agency project with Adidas saw smartphone users able to interact with a shop window display celebrating Stan Smith ­the athlete and the trainers named after him. The agency is now looking at how it can utilise 3D technology such as Oculus Rift for retail brands and recently launched what is believes is the world¹s first digital video label for Adidas. The battery-powered label shows a 30-second film on a tiny embedded screen.

“Surprise and delight,” Collins says, however big or small the brief. Surely the ambition for forward-looking retailers everywhere, and one where the innovative use of technology, data and good old-fashioned customer fulfillment are key.

The Drum’s Retail Breakfast takes place on 29 July at our Shoreditch offices. Join online and high street retailers, brands and agencies as they offer fantastic insight into the retail space. Contact daniel.morris@thedrum.com for more information.

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Catherine Turner

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