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Blurred lines: the rise of the omnichannel consumer

01.05.2015

Technological innovation is moving at such a rapid pace – with the rise of click and collect, the mass adoption of mobile commerce and in-store gadgets all aimed at improving the customer experience – that it is quite possible to imagine a world in which virtual shopping renders physical stores obsolete.  Or is it?

It is certainly true that consumer expectations are evolving and retailers that fail to invest in digital infrastructure will be left behind, but it would be wrong to write off the importance of the physical store.  After all, shopping remains the nation’s second favourite leisure pursuit (after watching television), and pureplay etailers are cottoning on.  Only last month Misguided signed a deal to open its first concession with US retailer Nordstrom, and Google and Amazon are both now experimenting with physical stores as part of a multichannel offering.

What’s clear is that traditional lines between online and physical retail have become blurred, with astute retailers recognising that the same customer wants to shop a number of channels.  “Mrs Smith” might like to browse her favourite websites on her tablet at home, head into her local shopping centre to try on a few items and stop for lunch with friends, and then order online during her lunch break at work the next day.   It’s crucial, therefore, that retailers deliver consistent customer service across all channels and offer an efficient fulfilment offer.  The most successful retailers are those that are investing in omnichannel infrastructure and adopting flexible structures that allow them to remain agile and deliver a seamless experience to customers across multiple channels.  John Lewis was amongst the first to recognise and benefit from this trend, reporting that multichannel shoppers spend on average 3.5x more than single channel shoppers and are more loyal to the brand.

For Hammerson as a landlord, it is important that we create destinations which bring together the best in physical and digital retail, ensuring the optimum environment for our retailers to engage with customers.  We were quick to rollout beacon technology across our European portfolio and, following successful trials of our ‘PLUS’ app at Les Terrasses du Port in France and Brent Cross in London we have just pushed the button on a full-scale rollout – a first for the sector.  The app gives consumers greater control over their shopping mission – they can map their day using geo-location technology, access store information and learn about centre events.  It also allows retailers to engage directly with their customers, tailoring personalised offers and specific promotions based on expressed and learned customer interests.

As retail specialists, it is important that we remain at the forefront of digital innovation.  Embracing new technologies will allow us to enhance the experiential side of shopping for our customers, bringing digital theatre to our malls and encouraging dwell-time, whilst at the same time minimising the ‘boring’ aspects, with time spent queuing or paying becoming automated at the swipe of a button.  As technology evolves and customer expectations follow, we must continue to adapt so that our shopping destinations remain relevant and attractive to the consumer of the future.