Multichannel retailing involves offering customers a variety of experiences and ways to buy, including brick-and-mortar stores, online shops, telesales, mobile and tablet commerce.
It covers transactions from browsing to buying and returning, as well as pre and post-sale service. For luxury retailers, this means more channels and more devices, across which quality, service and experience must be communicated.
The transition from bricks-and-mortar to clicks-and-mortar, although full of opportunity, is not without its challenges.
In addition to the generic challenges that come with updating a business model, the luxury sector, and indeed the department store luxury market, has its own set of unique challenges.
The Luxury Challenge
Luxury customers have high expectations. They want high quality, beautiful packaging, attentive service and seamless delivery.
The same expectations are held for the retailer’s brand, therefore in terms of online offerings, retailers must focus on communicating the luxury look and feel of their brand while delivering the ecommerce technology expected by today’s modern consumer.
In luxury fashion, human interaction is paramount. In-store product recommendations come from highly-trained and experienced staff that may know the customer personally and can deliver an experience tailored to their preferences.
In the online space, this is usually the remit of algorithms tracking patterns to show customers what they “may like”.
Luxury online retailers must implement more advanced systems that enable them to serve past customers with relevant, personalised recommendations that emulate the in-store customer experience and transfer the same feelings and associations regardless of channel.
Delivery Methods and Stock Accuracy
Luxury shopping focuses on the perception that a product or service is difficult to obtain and stock is by nature exclusive. For example, a retailer may only have one £2,000 Alexander McQueen dress in a size six available in a given season.
Hence, it is important to provide customers with up-to-date real-time stock information. Management and accuracy of stock is even more paramount when scarcity is in play – there is little margin for error.
Burberry’s hi-tech London store
Currently in the UK market, there is a huge trend towards click and collect, a big competitive advantage for bricks-and-mortar retailers. A customer picking up a £2,000 dress, however, does not want to be directed to a basement sorting room.
As a result, the prominence of the collection location and design are crucial and must tie in with the customer experience if a luxury retailer is to truly tie channels together.
Providing a collection point that has access to dressing room facilities, for example, also presents staff with the opportunity to provide advice, upsell and offer a similar level of service as they would should the customer have come into store to browse.
The availability of customer data has enabled online retailers to understand the behaviours and preferences of their market and serve them with personalised, relevant service, offers and messaging.
The luxury shopping experience is, as mentioned above, personal and ensuring that this level of customer attention transfers online is crucial.
With key customer personas in mind, retailers can formulate hypothetical situations in which multichannel service will truly come into play. For example, a customer visits the store and uses the services of a personal shopper to try on an outfit, but only purchases one item from the selection.
This presents an opportunity for this information to be transferred online for the customer to view the next time they visit the site, not only reminding them of their previous purchase journey but targeting them with relevant goods of interest.
Multichannel undeniably now extends to mobile. Mobile commerce is no longer just a “nice to have” and is now essential for retail competitiveness.
It is safe to assume that the majority of luxury customers will be mobile device users, so building a compatible online offering is simply an extension of the personalised, high-quality website offering already provided.
Retailers must accept that an entire desktop offering cannot always be usefully transferred to mobile. They should recognise that mobile presents an opportunity to provide a simplified, content-led experience that also enables social sharing at the tap of a screen.
Multichannel retail presents an undeniable opportunity for brands to improve services and customer engagement, but it is essential to ensure that there is consistency across channels.
Brand values, whether they be convenience, price, or the ultimate luxury experience, must remain clear and universally consistent if you are to provide customers with a true, tailored multichannel experience.