We’re obsessed with the evolution of the shopping experience.

Established retailers are trying to learn more about their customers’ shopping habits. The ones getting it wrong are trying to mash tech and the store together into one unwieldy omnichannel concept that turns the customer cold.

This can be summed up as “the screen in the corner that nobody wants to use”.

So, what is omnichannel actually about? It’s about giving the customer that pleasantly surprising “Oh! You know me!?” experience, however they interact with you.

These two quotes are from Liz Crawford, CTO of Birchbox, the recommendation beauty service that’s part ecommerce and part subscription (try and buy) service.

At #canvasconf (organised by 383 agency), Liz detailed Birchbox’s approach to personalisation via its online service (you can read more about that here). 

Aside from the company’s take on personalisation, it was interesting to hear how an engaging online-only retailer has shaped its first steps into bricks and mortar retail.

Rather than a traditional retailer trying to bring its stores into the digital age, how does a delightful online business make equivalent real-world experiences?

Well, it does it without any consumer-facing tech, of course. No ‘screens in the corner that nobody wants to use’.

birchbox store in soho

Birchbox’s approach to online and in-store is defined by attentiveness and the right message - personalisation that the customer is comfortably aware of.

So, omnichannel may involve awareness of past purchases, loyalty points and shipping information, but it doesn’t include using an unmanned kiosk in-store.

The concept of customer service in Birchbox’s one bricks-and-mortar store in Soho (there are also pop-up stores, such as in Selfridges) is defined by the ‘super human’.

These super humans are store associates with deep knowledge of a broad product range.

And their focus is on helping the customer have a personal experience through human interaction.

Ok, this is a very short article but I think it stands up, if only to ask the following question.

What kind of in-store service are we trying to replicate online?

Flipping the question like this makes one pause for thought on exactly what the customer wants in store.

Is it screens? The failure of digital experiences in out-of-home advertising would hint at consumer ambivalence, unless of course the screen is the shopping experience (Argos for example, or perhaps considered purchases where the product is not always in store e.g. cars).

Answering the above question for traditional retailers isn’t just a method of approaching digital, it's a way of sense-checking the use of consumer-facing tech in-store.

Ben Davis

Published 28 October, 2015 by Ben Davis @ Econsultancy

Ben Davis is Editor at Econsultancy. He lives in Manchester, England. You can contact him at ben.davis@econsultancy.com, follow at @herrhuld or connect via LinkedIn.

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Comments (2)


Devika G, Marketing Content Associate at MobStac

I totally agree with what you said Ben. Today it has become highly critical for retailers to focus their efforts on getting their customer service right, because that’s what customer retention is built on in 2015. However if use properly in-store technology such as beacons can actually empower retailers with the ability to offer a personalized customer shopping experience. We have discussed the best practices around implementing an in-store personalization strategy here: http://blog.beaconstac.com/2015/07/6-best-practices-for-implementing-in-store-personalization-in-2015/

almost 3 years ago


Kevin Havens, President and founder/lead developer at Juggadolls Linux

I'm not a retailer, but I have worked in a few, and I am a computer tinkerer in my spare time (I have a Tandy/Radio Shack Color Computer, an Apple iBook G4, a hand-built Intel Core i5 Ubuntu box and a few Raspberry Pis) just as a hobby of mine, but I know how frustrating it was to even train (and dumb down myself so I don't go speaking in a "foreign language" to them) customers how to use the loyalty card kiosks that one store I worked in (closed for a while) gave me the hardware to fool around with (I made it into a MAME cabinet, but I digress...) after I got laid off from that job. But even going into the gas station on the corner, who offers a loyalty program, Speedy Rewards, in which it's a points-based and purchase-based system in which freebies are earned by either points or a certain number of purchases (Earn 500 points when buying two King-size candy bars, buy six sodas, get 7th free, buy a hot dog with 1000 points... you get the idea), but the kiosk goes largely unused in my local Speedway convenience store (I just shop there) and I've seen receipts with points accumulated in the seven figures... which could get them a $500 Visa gift card... but it's only redeemable at the "unused screen in the corner." I'm glad one retailer is doing this. But for me, it's too little too late.

almost 3 years ago

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