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Bricks and Clicks: The Changing Face of Retail

James Perrin

by James Perrin on 18th January 2012

Paying OnlineYou’ve no doubt looked up and down your high street recently, only to discover closing down sales, boarded up shops and empty premises. This has been a continued trend of late, with a large number of well known brands either falling into administration or having to shut their doors.

From Our Price to Rumbelows and now Barratts to La Senza, history has not been kind on the high street. The modern retail landscape demands an online presence, at the very least. For those retailers who are making a success of it, the business strategy of bricks and clicks seems to be the answer.

Changing Consumer Habits

Since the advent of the Internet, consumers have had more power. They are now well informed and incredibly independent, something that many retailers are powerless to control. No longer do consumers wait until a Saturday to get all of their shopping done, nor do they just ‘window shop’ on the high street. They research and compare prices with other retailers, and being online has helped with this immensely [See: Mega Monday: E-Commerce Boom and High Street Gloom].

Coupled with this is the fact that sometimes it is far more appealing to the consumer to spend an hour or so of an evening, or when they have spare time, to quickly search and shop for their required goods online. Instead of having to get ready, drive into town, find a parking space and walk around, consumers can find exactly what they want in the comfort of their own home.

In this sense, having an online presence is a no brainer – many retailers have been doing this for years. This is representative of a growing trend worldwide, where many retailers are finding that having an online presence is helping dramatically with their high street or ‘bricks and mortar’ sales. Whilst this isn’t to suggest that if you create an online business, all your prayers will be answered. After all, Peacocks had an online presence. However it was their mountain debts of £240 million which proved to be too much for them to succeed in the modern retail landscape.

Getting Your House in Order

The Peacocks situation does highlight an important issue. Having an online presence is one thing, but to make it and your overall business a success, you need get your house in order first. There are countless scenarios where a business may have an excellent online presence, but the crux of their failings lie within existing problems.

If a retailer has a flawed business model, or they don’t offer value for money, or their customer service just isn’t up to scratch, then you will have issues from the outset, regardless of whether or not you have an online presence. The Internet won’t save you here; you need to go back to basics. As a business, if you can’t offer the consumer something different, whether that’s value for money, quality goods, customer service or a customer experience, then it will prove to be too difficult to succeed.

At the very least you should be offering the consumer a good level of customer service. Typically, the online part of the business and the bricks and mortar store are sometimes dichotomised. Whilst they might have different management systems and strategies in place, as long as they both deliver a high level of customer experience, this will be crucial to its success and whether the integration between online and offline works at all.

A recent example of when customer service was not deemed a priority, was when a business owner responded to a customer’s complaint who wrote a negative review about this person’s restaurant [See: To Succeed Online You Must First Do So Offline]. Instead of dealing with the complaint or issue in the restaurant, the owner decided to rant at the customer using their social media platform – in a vulgar and distasteful way, and completely damaging the Boner’s BBQ brand (the first and last time you’ll hear of them, I’m sure).

The Bricks and Clicks Business Strategy

Even though the business strategies and departments of online and offline will be managed separately, the level of service between the two has to be synchronised. Consumer expectations are great, and so if they find something of yours online, they need to be enticed into visiting your store.

The focus should be on the customer – or customer centricity, as it is known. From the back office to the customer facing areas, it should all be geared towards driving the customer to buy and enjoy their experience. In this sense, all of your systems and departments should follow the same objectives, and be purely integrated to achieving these goals. For example, integrate the warehouse management system so that stocks are automatically replenished online as soon as possible. No one wants to see that ‘Out of Stock’ sign, otherwise they’ll end up shopping elsewhere.

They key is to deliver the same experience both online and offline. Whether its cross channel, or multi channel, if the message and experience is consistent, this will enhance customer loyalty. No matter what, the bricks and mortar store will still exist, because for some things, the actual shop will form the end of the customer journey. So, if a customer has seen something online they like, they might want to visit the store to either see this in person, or get the expertise and advice from the retail assistants.

Improve the customer experience. Shops thrive on delivering a service that consumers enjoy. A multitude of different coffee shops are booming on the high street, as too are those retailers which go the extra mile for the customer. For example T.M. Lewin, the shirt fitters, are very keen for you to get measured and take your time looking at the right shirt and tie that will look and fit well – something that is just not feasible online. Hollister too offer a service that is not comparable to shopping online, where friendly and helpful staff can help you make an informed decision on your purchases (that is if you like their range of clothing of course).

To Summarise

The changing face of retail means having a consistent cross channel experience which will entice consumers into shops, giving them that experience they won’t get elsewhere. Once a retailer’s house is in order, it’s time for them to take online seriously. They need to work hard at synchronising their efforts, being consistently customer centric, and only then will they reap the rewards on the high street.

Image Source

Writing on a white laptop via BigStock

James Perrin

James Perrin

Content Marketing Manager, James Perrin is a regular contributor to the Koozai blog. Well experienced in sales and marketing, James also has a passion for journalism and media, especially new media. From the latest industry related new stories to copywriting advice, James will provide you with plenty of digital marketing information.

2 Comments

  • Stephen Logan

    Stephen 18th January 2012

    Fundamentally, I have to agree. Good customer service across multiple online and offline channels is essential. However, value is becoming increasingly important.

    Look at Primark. Whilst sales have tailed off a bit, they have no kind of useful online presence and their service is almost non-existent. They thrive, because they are cheaper than everybody else. Plenty of low budget stores, including Poundland, have a ‘stack ‘em high’ policy and don’t bother with online sales or worry about delivering the very best service.

    However, if you are marketing yourself as a premium brand or selling quality goods, your service and accessibility should reflect that. It’s all about USPs I guess, if you’re in a competitive industry, blending into the background (like Barratts) is probably going to end in disaster. If you can’t be the best, be the cheapest, if you can’t be either, make sure you are the most visible.

    Reply to this comment

    • James Perrin

      James 18th January 2012

      Thanks for your thoughts Steve.

      Absolutely, if your USP is the fact that you’re the cheapest, then you won’t necessarily need to concentrate your efforts on customer experience. Poundland is a good example as they are selling FMCGs – as these are convenience goods, and incredibly low in price, they are now thriving on the high street.

      The point though, is to get other retailers back on their feet and thriving on the high street, rather than closing up. For those who aren’t necessarily the cheapest, they should focus on being visible online and incentivise the consumer or offer them a reason to visit the shop (if they have a high street presence that is). If they don’t offer the customer this experience, then the high street will start to look barren, or full of shops offering convenience goods, rather than quality retailers.

      Reply to this comment

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