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.