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.