Making the most of multi-channel

Experts from across the industry give their views on the marketability of the online-instore connection.

Pragma’s director, Helene Mills, and managing director, strategy and investor services, Ralph Fernando, kicked off the session with a presentation about the analytics company, outlining its recent trends and how it expects the retail industry to progress.

“Predicting the future is the main challenge,” said Helene Mills. “The more people innovate, the more customers expect. We need to focus on the customer need rather than technology. Too many think of it the other way round and technology is not cheap. I think that’s quite poignant and many agree that keeping the consumer at the heart of what they do and not being overly led or distracted by technology is absolutely key. We should not lose heart in the traditional channels because they will remain important even though the world is changing.”

Mills went on to note that, despite the continuous rise of online retail, the majority shares were going to online focused brands like Amazon and ebay, and the instant gratification produced by buying in store looked likely to remain. She also highlighted that online-only retailers are still looking for bricks and mortar sites, including millennial fashion brand Missguided, and other brands are focusing on catering to their local clientele, such as Waterstones.

Ralph Fernando then led a panel discussion with Andrew McVicker, sales director at FSP, Daniel Graham, managing director at OnBrand, and Andy Briggs, general manager at the Oracle shopping centre on how managers can help merge the two channels.

McVicker championed food and beverage as a key focus for centres in enticing shoppers away from their computer screens. “One of the big impacts [centre managers have] seen is the increased demand for food and beverage within their schemes. Obviously it’s something the online really struggles to replicate, and that experience can be a real driver. Our research shows that on average in the UK, 48 per cent of shopping visits involve stopping for food or beverage of some, so it’s a really strong opportunity for centres to address.

“When we talk about experience,” he continued, “we can sometimes get carried away with placing trampolining parks and the like in every single centre. It’s about knowing the local market and knowing what your shoppers needs and wants, and F&B provides something that the internet just can’t replicate.”

Briggs backed the rise of click and collect and in-store refund as an opportunity rather than an enemy, claiming that customers are not just online or in store, they are more promiscuous and for a lot of people it’s about obtaining a product, the channel through which they do this is often irrelevant. He supported this with the statistic that 80 per cent of people who click and collect go on to make an additional purchase in store.

Graham addressed the looming growth of online retail, but said that leisure is biting back. “Yes, retail has changed, certainly on the leisure side of things, but people still want to come into stores. People like the instant gratification and if they want to buy something physically, they’ll go and buy it physically. To be able to touch, feel, and try things on, and even return – there is still that personalised human touch there.”

Graham also recommended that managers get to know and work with retailers as there is a growing thought that suggests shopping centre managers have more budget available to communicate with the retailers through digital channels, and it could prove the simplest way to get quick wins. “It used to be a case of putting digital in a marketing world, but now I would say it’s putting marketing in a digital world,” he said. In his concluding point, he urged managers that: “it’s about diversifying your offering and being about more than just shopping.”

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