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The ‘future of the high street’ debate found its way back into the spotlight again recently with the opening of Europe’s largest shopping centre at the site of London’s Olympic stadium.
Last month, Stratford’s Westfield shopping centre, a £1.45bn hulk of glass, steel and concrete, covering 1.9m square feet and home to 300 shops, 70 restaurants, a 14 screen cinema, bowling alley, casino and three hotels, opened its doors to 160,000 eager shoppers.
How will brick and mortar stores fare in the age of ecommerce?
The much publicised development has had mixed reactions - an embarrassing shrine to a consumerist society, a much needed investment in East London, the fatal blow to ailing high streets across Britain or a brand new way to experience shopping?
Most interestingly, many commentators claim the move indicates a win for brick and mortar stores struggling to survive in an age of e-commerce.
It’s strange that we so often pit offline and online models against one another, when in fact they are all part of a new multi-channel shopping experience that consumers are increasingly open to and aware of.
Different pieces of the customer experience puzzle
There is a misconception that e-commerce, or its younger sibling m-commerce, will cannibalise sales on the high street. The truth is that any company with both an online and offline presence needs to adopt a multichannel approach.
The fact is that it’s only brands (and industry commentators) that view offline and online channels as being in competition with one another.
The customer merely sees different channels as different sides of the same brand. In fact, customers have increasingly high expectations for all channels.
For example, a Harris Interactive survey commissioned by Tealeaf earlier this year shows that 47% of consumers expect the customer experience to be better on a mobile website than in-store.
Need more proof that the customer views online and offline experience as one and the same? The survey also found that 63% of online adults claim they would be less likely to buy from the same company through other channels if they experienced a problem when conducting a mobile transaction.
The real ‘new way to shop’ is multichannel and multi-device
It’s up to retailers to rise to the challenge of meeting these sky-high customer experience expectations.
As consumers, we are now more ‘connected’ than ever before, with smartphones and tablet computers becoming ubiquitous. ABI research predicts that by 2012, over half of UK adults will own a smartphone and that number will only continue to rise in time.
The mobile web changes the goalposts. With internet access now in our pockets at all times, we can browse while travelling en route to a shop or even when in-store!
With a few clicks, a customer can search on a smartphone or tablet to check competitor prices or download a discount code, significantly enhancing the in-store experience.
It’s all about the customer
At the end of the day, to develop a multichannel strategy that really works, you need to focus on optimising the customer experience at each touch point but also at a macro level.
So while making use of the new features and functionality of mobile sites or mobile apps (as recently discussed) is important, it’s also necessary to understand customer behaviour across all channels.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, the most important thing is to provide a seamless customer experience, irrespective of the channel the customer chooses.
To them, it’s the same brand and they expect the same five-star experience whether they visit your new Westfield branch or download your latest mobile app – or both, at once!
All channels must contribute to the same aim: improving customer experience and increasing conversion rates.