The channel revolution: how retailers are moving from reaction to reinvention

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Today’s customer oscillates between channels seamlessly. Their unpredictable behavior has put many retailers on the backfoot, leaving them to play catch-up to changing customer whims and desires. Tablets had their moment, now smartphones are center stage and wearables look set to take the spotlight of tomorrow (IMRG, February 2016).

The speedy emergence of new technologies hasn’t caught everyone unawares however, and the best are already starting to anticipate developments, and as a result learn quicker and adapt faster than competitors, giving themselves the lead over the rest of the market.

I decided to look at how retail leaders are taking advantage of new channels to reinvent their relationship with customers.

Making your mobile proposition appetizing

Smartphones are powering mobile’s increasing channel dominance, with mobile now accounting for 73% of all purchases (Econsultancy, March 2016). Getting mobile apps right remains problematic, with the best needing to combine convenience, speed and personalization to ensure real engagement from customers (Retail Pro, October 2015).

The advantages to this approach however are clear. ASOS sees “much higher” conversions from its apps than mobile web, with innovative approaches such as style stories focused around specific outfits used to forge emotional connections with customers (Econsultancy, March 2014).

Walgreens receives over 60% of its’ online traffic from smartphones alone, and their mobile app is designed to streamline traditional processes (DSN, March 2015). Customers can carry out prescription transfers, refill by scan and order photo prints via their smartphone.


Forrester also recommends that retailers work with relevant partners to expand their presence, provide new data that can further improve the customer experience and deliver more immersive experiences to customers.

To that end, Walgreens has partnered with MDLive, to provide patients with 24 hour access to doctors via smartphone, as well as Google and eBay on same-day delivery. The results of this are telling: an internal study showed that customers who shop both online and in their physical stores spend over three times as much as a customer who only shops at their stores. Adding mobile into the mix almost doubles this, with customers spending up to six times as much.

Stores of the future

There are already great strides being taken towards achieving “digital parity” with the online experience in-store (Forbes, February 2016). Leaders are focusing their efforts on delivering a glowing in-store experience that is as brisk, well-stocked, flawless and easy as that available online. Burberry redesigned its flagship store as a “physical manifestation of their website” incorporating simple touches like the ability to pay at sofas with mobile card readers, replicating the comfort of online shopping at home (Guardian, 2012). image01-1.jpg

The step beyond is utilizing the best elements from online to make a superior physical environment that delivers everything online can’t.

Warby Parker started out as an ecommerce eyewear pioneer, but has seen online growth accelerating since opening physical stores. Although 30-50% of those shopping in-store are “unlikely” to make a purchase online, 90% have been to the website, and once they’ve made an in-store purchase, they’re more confident in making a second or third purchase online (Fashionista, June 2015).image02.png


Driving conversational commerce

The emergence of each new social network has brought a flurry of activity to monetize via ads, filters, buy buttons and more. The latest innovation, ecommerce in messaging apps, already has retailers reconsidering their options, especially as for the first time apps like Facebook Messenger have surpassed social media sites in monthly activities (Business Insider, January 2016).

Facebook unveiled its ecommerce proposition in Messenger in March 2015, partnering with retailers like Everlane for the launch. “Businesses on Messenger” is looking to create conversational commerce.

Everlane customers can receive order updates via Facebook messenger, talk to a customer service rep or even get personalized recommendations based on their history stored in the app. In the future this type of conversational commerce may come together with other technology, such as Artificial Intelligence, to automate conversations to the point where customers may not even be able to tell the difference (Fashion and Mash, March 2016).


The common thread underlying all three approaches is the use of data to develop a truly customer centric approach, seeking to fully understand customers, and reinvent their shopping experience. Walgreens is using data to re-orientate itself for customers increasingly living in the moment. Warby Parker is using using its physical stores to create a brand familiarity that reassures customers about the quality they can expect from online purchases. Everlane has taken their social approach back to basics, avoiding intrusive ads and buy buttons, and focusing on establishing a human dialogue that suits customers.

These brands have rightly identified that sustained success now depends upon listening to customers needs and altering the customer experience accordingly. Getting ahead of the game means getting to grips with customer data and using insights to engage customers by making the experience convenient, valuable and responsive. Exceeding expectations means evolving and the leaders know it.

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