Do you remember the dot com boom of the nineties? Unfortunately I am old enough to remember it clearly – I’m still shocked when I see graduates entering the company who were born in the nineties so this all seems like ancient history now!
One of the key fears back then was that the High Street was going to become an instant wasteland as we all migrated to online retailers offering a better and cheaper experience. Amazon was the lightning rod – the company that every newspaper columnist predicted would end the need for real bookstores.
But we continued to have bookstores. The real stores out in town centres continued to thrive despite the arrival of online stores. The online channel became something that sits alongside the traditional retailer – just another option.
But now most retailers are finding that customers are insisting on multichannel support. Sometimes they want to experience products in a store and sometimes they want the convenience of buying online from home or work. Smart retailers are trying to offer both within a seamless environment.
I noticed this blog commenting on the multichannel trend and it made two specific comments that I believe are important:
- Customers are relying more and more on their peers for store and product recommendations – via recommendation and review sites – so the individual shopper needs to be treated (even cultivated) as a brand advocate. If they love what you do, they will tell a lot of people.
- Retail on demand is simply one hop and jump from where we already are. Customers are getting more comfortable releasing more data to retailers – soon the retailer will know the customer is in one of their branches, or that they need a particular product. Reaching out to help the customer when you know what they want is not advertising – it makes their life easier.
Retail is undergoing a rough ride at present. The Internet and the demands of a multichannel environment are shaking up the industry just as these same companies try to fight the effect of a lingering recession.
But it will be those who have the vision to see beyond this just being one more channel bolted on. A true multichannel retail experience involves the customer as your partner – not just as someone handing over cash for products. Time to start thinking differently.
Photo by Mr T licensed under Creative Commons