The shopper journey is in-store and online

Design for retail must integrate seamlessly shoppers’ experience of a store’s online and bricks-and-mortar offer, says Julie Oxberry

Julie Oxberry

A report released at the beginning of the year claimed that a quarter of shoppers now use mobile devices to look up the website of the store they are in, or that of its competitor.

Essentially, shoppers are increasingly active in two different places at once – although they may be in a specific store and even intending to buy something specific that it sells, they are no longer part of a captive audience.

This is a trend that will only accelerate as such devices become cheaper and their users grow more attached to them. Internet security firm AVG recently reported that, while just 9 per cent of twoto five-year-olds could tie their shoelaces, more than double that were adept at using a smartphone.

It’s time for retailers to wrest the initiative back. Their most traditional sales channel – the store environment – is currently suffering, when it should be the most exciting.

The two spheres of store experience and online experience will continue to overlap. Drop into your nearest Intercontinental hotel and you’ll see the concierge armed with an iPad. Even Argos is evolving, doing away with its heavy catalogues in favour of digital screens and card payment systems that can process 50 transactions a second. Such systems segment shopper journeys, much as the monolithic machines in banks now do, cutting down the queues for the tellers.

To create the best shopper experience, multichannel retailing must be about delivering incredible, seamless service. Digital integration has both to fit within the brand and provide a service that helps make the shopper journey more engaging, as well as more efficient. Using digital to a store’s advantage can be as simple as merging online and in-store inventories – which increasingly spaces like Dixon’s concept store, Black, are doing – as customers express confusion and dissatisfaction with having one item available online and not in-store, or worse, cheaper online than in-store. Fuller integration can help maximise the space a retailer has available, leaving room for the type of shopping experience customers increasingly want, which is much more than just picking products off the shelf and paying for them.

Integration is a misnomer if you’re not going to make the service from website to store (and back again) a seamless experience, maintaining a consistent look and feel through the line. HSBC has done just that by featuring an abacus image prominently on its website, its Facebook page, and in-store.

Consider the screens we see in some fashion stores, with catwalk shows playing on them. These looped videos are a missed opportunity. For the extra expense of a touchscreen, consumer engagement would shoot up, all the more so if there were a way to combine it with something the shopper has engaged with in the online world.

Such a way might just be provided by the likes of Facebook Deals, the recently launched service by the eponymous social network. It will be interesting to see whether it can succeed in making location-based offerings appeal to more than a niche audience, something that rival social network site Foursquare has struggled with. If it’s functional and fun, it will have a chance of appealing to Facebook’s 160 million-plus mobile users.

Integration is a misnomer if you’re not going to make the service from website to store a seamless experience

Similarly, Asos.com, the online fashion retailer, is to launch a Facebook shop this month that lets users purchase items from its entire product range within the social network. Allowing customers to buy its clothes without leaving the Facebook site and with the same functionality as the Asos site, buyers will be able to show off things they like and share the purchase experience with friends. And, of course, all these expectations translate into the offline world and back again.

In another example, a new Condé Nast newsagent opening in London will stock the publisher’s magazines and books alongside demos of apps and iPad products in a slick environment that unites digital products with more traditional reading matter.

As the boundaries between offline and online worlds continue to blur and people become more used to digital technology at an ever-earlier age, we cannot afford to keep distinguishing between the two worlds. Rather, every store design should at some point focus on what a mobile-integrated environment or digital installation could do to make the shopping experience more engaging, from looking at clothing in different colours, or getting more information about that bottle of wine with the awesome label, to seeing from your bed what other guests are ordering for room service and how long the waiting time will be.

Michael Ward, managing director of Harrods, summed up the retail scene recently in a speech about just how important the overall shopping experience is. ’The environment and service are just as important as the product,’ he said.

I couldn’t have put it better myself.

Julie Oxberry is managing director of branding and design consultancy Household

Engaging with the cyber-shopper

  • In two places at once – the trend for consumers to conduct their shopping simultaneously in-store and online will accelerate as mobile devices become cheaper and their users grow more attached to them
  • Digital integration – design for retail has to fit within the brand and provide a service that helps to make the shopper journey more engaging, as well as more efficient
  • Break down the in-store and online distinction – every store design should at some point focus on whata mobile-integrated environment or digital installation could do to enhance the shopping experience
  • See the bigger picture – ’The environment and service are just as important as the product’

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