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The Rise of Omni-Channel Retailing

What is it?

Omni-channel retailing is the combination of platforms on which retailers can market their product. This dynamic approach to sales aims to give the customer a seamless shopping experience, no matter what device they’re using to shop or if they’re shopping in person.

Marketers are learning that their most valued customer is one who shops over multiple channels. It’s a holistic approach to technology inclusive retail and it’s important to remember that there’s a difference between multi-channel and omni-channel. You can be using a number of digital platforms but unless they are integrated with each other it is not omni-channel.

The success of this depends on the depth of the integration, and whilst once popular companies such as BHS, HMV and Woolworths have sadly been seen to fail at digital and therefore get left behind, there are a number of companies who are doing it right.

Who's doing it?

In 2014, Clinique’s first independent pop-up boutique store, the Clinique Great Skin Lab in Covent Garden, synchronised in-store recommendations with shoppers’ online profiles.

A collection of state-of-the-art iPads and monitors called ‘digital experience pods’ were available, on which customers could look to discover information about the available products, receive skincare advice from dermatologists and nutritionists, and answer questions about their lifestyle to provide a visualisation on the future of their skin. Customers were given an in-store personalised skin consultation, and were then supplied with codes for their results which enabled them to use that information online, should they prefer to purchase digitally.

Within the concept store there was also a social media activated art installation; The Orb. A four metre high, illuminated sphere which sat eight metres above the ground, it would glow brighter whenever there were mentions of the hashtag #CliniqueGlow on social media, and its accompanying campaign offered customers the chance to win one of Clinique’s latest and most popular products to encourage people to get involved. The Great Skin Lab was an excellent example of merging digital with customer experience and was one of the first successful attempts at omni-channel retailing.

Also in 2014, House of Fraser became the first to use iBeacon mannequins. Powered by low energy Beacon technology, which works in a similar way to Bluetooth, they enabled shoppers to receive information on the mannequins’ outfits straight to their devices. Shoppers had to download an app, and then would receive notifications about the content they could access whenever they were in a 50 metre radius of a mannequin.

Last year, the brand used this same technology to make window shopping a reality, as with the iBeacon mannequins displayed in the windows, customers could simply shop from the outside via the app. As well as this, the app also stored loyalty information and enabled customers to scan products for more information. Free Wi-Fi in their stores made all of this possible, and the store’s chief customer officer was quoted saying ‘any customer that gets their phone out in store is a success. The fact they’re engaging digitally in the store environment is the start.’

In the same year, Waitrose launched an incubator programme which aimed to trial retail innovations. The first product to be trialled was the Hiku home scanner. Attaching to the fridge, it allowed customers to scan products’ barcodes at home and it would then automatically add the product to their online shopping basket. The Hiku had voice recognition technology, so customers were able to talk to the device if they preferred to add a product to their basket verbally, and it also came in tandem with its own app, which enabled customers to scan products on their mobile or tablet whilst they were out and about.

What does this mean?

The future of retail is dramatically evolving; the examples above are just some of many. In the few years since these companies began dipping their toes in the pool of digital innovation, every household name in retail seems to be following suit - but companies are having to go to greater lengths than ever to achieve it.

A few years ago, Click & Collect and QR codes were considered cutting-edge, but now they are the minimum standard for shoppers and have fast become the norm. In just 10 years’ time, it’s likely that our everyday tasks will be entirely completed for us, and household items will one by one go from manual functionality to embracing the automatic.

Changes like these are already happening, as this year John Lewis opened its first ‘Smart Home’ floor at the Oxford Street branch in London, in which household items, all controlled by either an App or The Cloud, are displayed in an interactive real-life home setting. Just some of these products include a fridge that completes your online food shop, an oven that lets you put dinner on before you leave the office and a bedside device that monitors the quality of your sleep. These items are not exactly unheard of in our homes at the moment, but having them all displayed together and working integrated with the same technology gives us a view into our omni-channel future.

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