19 May 2024, 21:59
By Furniture News Sept 28, 2018

Omnichannel investment – a retailer response

In March last year, John Lewis announced a £4m investment in digital customer service in 20 of its stores, to strengthen its omnichannel retail offer. The move saw staff given iPhones loaded with a bespoke app to help them engage customers more closely by finding information about products, checking stock availability, and placing orders. We asked our retail feedback panel what investment they had made to bring their digital channels closer to their store offers, and vice versa? What obstacles had they encountered? And are they seeing the benefits of offering a joined-up approach to retail? 

Mike Murray (Land of Beds): A multichannel approach to retail has been our operating model for over a decade. We have continually invested in our digital channels – launching a next-generation website built entirely in-house, as well as rolling out our social media, Google AdWords and SEO strategies. In the past 12 months, we have added online order points in all our stores, as well as launching live chat on our website. 

Bringing the on- and offline worlds closer together means that in-store customers can view your full product range – not just what’s on your shop floor – and that online customers can access the knowledge of a bed expert from the comfort of their own home. Wherever and however customers choose to shop, you need to offer choice, convenience and, of course, a market-leading price. 

Steve Adams (MattressOnline): We have embraced omnichannel, albeit on a smaller scale. We only have one retail outlet, which is integrated into our online channel, and we ensure our most popular products are online and in store, at the same price with the same delivery method. 

The in-store sales team are totally integrated into the online business, helping customers online as well as in store. Any future physical stores will be an extension of our online business.

Royce Clark (Grampion Furnishers): John Lewis are leading the way yet again, and in my opinion are at present the best in the home furnishings market at multichannel retailing – so as a trade we need to take note and act accordingly, or be left behind.  

Our business has invested a reasonable amount in a multichannel in recent years, but it is by no means an easy, quick or straightforward process. We will, however, continue to invest even more to improve our customer experience in store and online, as it is clear to me that this is essential if a business wants to keep growing in the current market.

Steve Pickering (Sussex Beds): Linking our channels is important as we strive to optimise the business – removing bottlenecks, delays and providing the relevant information as and when the consumer requires it will increase conversions.

Over the past 12 months we have linked our EPOS sales system with our website to provide live stock information. Consumers can also view where specific products are displayed in our various locations, and log on to track their orders. Over the next 12 months our plan is to allow consumers the ability to link product-specific information using mobile devices in store.

Modern business requires constant optimisation to remain competitive, and multichannel linking is an essential part of the overall process.

Ross Beveridge, Archers Sleepcentre: We have recently taken steps to create a more seamless link between our in-store and online offering, where items shown on our website can be ordered in store as easily as our shop core display products, and vice versa.  

A customer can purchase something from the website to be collected in store, or return online purchases to one of our branches (this is seldom used, as our retail units are located in Central Scotland, and our website supplies all areas of the UK). 

We have dedicated stations set up in store to allow customers to browse our online catalogue, and we encourage our sales staff to utilise the vast product listing, offering a much broader choice than a purely bricks-and-mortar retailer could. We run the same promotion in store and online at the same time to further support customers’ freedom to choose different products and not lose out. 

There are challenges in attempting to develop an omnichannel approach – none more so than the personal touch of customer service you receive in a store environment – but I do see this an ongoing area of development, with customer service levels being at the forefront.

This article was originally published as part of Furniture News' Year in Review 2017 article, in the January 2018 issue.

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