An outbreak of peace between stores and online

As physical stores and online channels begin to integrate, at last traditional retailers can regain the advantage

As Google and Amazon’s impending entry into physical store retailing demonstrates, a single channel is no longer sufficient, and as a result the lines are becoming vey blurred in retail.

Whilst those two brands have the massive spending power required to build a physical store network from scratch  – and as Apple have shown it can be done with astonishing success – few online pure-plays could dream of doing the same.

Traditional retailers, on the other hand, are in a great position to introduce the digital dimension into their operations in order to become the much touted multi-channel retailer, turning what’s become a liability (expensive, underperforming stores with dead stock and poor service) into an asset (physical pivot points for an ecosystem of customer-driven touchpoints).

Accenture’s 2013 Seamless Retail Study found that half (49 percent) of consumers believe the best thing retailers can do to improve the shopping experience is to better integrate in-store, online and mobile shopping channels.

Consumers remain confident on the in-store shopping experience: Almost all survey participants (94 percent) found in-store shopping easy. They are less bullish, however, about their experience with other shopping channels: 74 percent said online shopping is easy, but only one-quarter (26 percent) found the mobile phone shopping experience easy.

“Stores remain a crucial asset by which traditional players can differentiate themselves from the online pure-play retailers,” said Chris Donnelly, global managing director of Accenture’s Retail practice. “They can serve as a showcase for desirable brands and places where customers can enjoy an experience and social interactions.”

The opportunity to build on traditional retail’s natural advantage –  the store network – is clear. And the sorely needed good news for traditional retailers is that the investment required to extend the store experience into the digital realm is far less than doing it the other way around.

“My daughters are saying they’re sick of buying online and they want to get back to shopping in the centres, but they want a more futuristic experience.” Michael Wittner, of Wittner’s Shoes explaining why he added a ‘Scan and go’ display to selected stores.

However, whichever way it happens, it’s very clear that new skills and approaches are going to be required. Will a traditional retailer have the necessary cross-discipline resource structures – budgetary and human resources – in place? No, why would they?

So things have to change structurally before there can be any chance of sufficient innovation. And with change comes risk. But since the alternative is to continue to watch passively as sales slide,  retailers are showing a readiness to innovate and invest in omni-channel retailing.

The result will be a profitable outbreak of peace break between traditional retailers and the digital world.

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