What’s in an omni-channel offering?

shutterstock_160540622As shopping evolves to meet with the digital age, brick and mortar stores and desk-top websites are being complemented and perhaps in time replaced by convenient shopping methods that suit the modern consumer. Retailers speak of an omni-channel offering and uniting services to work together in one seamless purchasing journey. John Lewis a self described omni-channel retailer, defines omni-channel as the seamless experience customers feel when they change between shopping online and in-store. “It is about creating a new way people will shop. It’s not just about being in a building or online, but joining these things up,” says John Lewis IT director Paul Coby.

So, what exactly does this journey currently involve? Showrooms, digital screens, self service kiosks, mobile devices and pop-up stores all have a place:


In less than ten years time consumers may find themselves faced with showrooms instead of today’s traditional retail stores. The show room will simply be a part of the transition from product research to purchase.

Already in support of the concept Richard Glanville, chief financial officer at Aurora Fashions, which oversaw the implementation of iPads at Oasis, Warehouse and Coast says: “That’s really what our stores are – showrooms. We have much fewer stores than we used to have.” “That’s obviously causing social problems in towns and cities where retailers are deserting, but omni-channel is the way to move forward,” he adds. Now Coast, Warehouse and Oasis have an average of 60 stores per chain.  “We still think that’s probably too many,” he says. “We’re probably moving to a situation where you just want flagships, perhaps 50, and a really good omni-channel offering.”

Digital Screens

Messaging by digital screens that guide and entertain the consumer through the shopping experience is frequently present in store. Trolleys, shelf edges, queue points, transitional walls where the customer goes from one department to another or even shop windows all have the potential to talk to the customer through digital screens.

Digital labels

Retailers can now also take advantage of digital shelf labels that can be instantly updated wirelessly, helping stores to always offer products at the best rate.

Quick to spot the potential was baby equipment specialist Kiddicare which implemented digital labels in its stores using ZBD Solutions. ZBD’s technology removes the need for store staff to update paper labels every time information changes, giving employees more time to devote to customer service. Kiddicare makes a point of checking online prices of its competitors and immediately change product pricing accordingly. Scott Weavers-Wright, chief executive of Kiddicare, says: “With ZBD’s fully graphic displays, we can add QR [quick response] codes to the shelf in the future to provide additional information to customers’ mobile phones or store assistants’ tablets. This information could include product demonstrations, customer reviews or anything else that will enhance the shopping experience. It’s all available via our free in-store Wi-Fi network.”

In-Store kiosks

Another old favourite is the multi-functional in-store kiosk that offers customers the opportunity to self-serve, browse and order products, view cross promotions, and arrange collection or delivery.

Most commonly seen in supermarkets the kiosks are also popular with photo suppliers and clothing retailers. Kiddicare was keen to utilise the in-store kiosk when it expanded upon its multi-channel marketing strategy after finding that the average order on its website was nearly four times that of its store due to selling methods on the web.

Others to join the kiosk concept were: Boots as part of its loyalty schemes to enable loyalty card holders to obtain special offers in store; Matalan trialled kiosks to provide in-store access to its entire product range including the extended lines that can only be found online, and

Marks & Spencer plan to introduce ‘Style Online’ kiosks that link to browse & order points to enable purchasing.

Mobile devices

Smart phones and tablets offer another level of service to the consumer that they can access in-store or anywhere, such as on the train during the daily commute or while relaxing at home on the couch. Mobile websites, apps and SMS get a customer’s attention and then make an easy sale by providing route to payment at the click of a button. This can be achieved both in-store through NFC mobile wallets or virtually by mobile websites.

iBeacons have now also entered the scene after being introduced by Apple. The iBeacon alerts mobile phone apps with customised messaging when users enter a particular zone in-store. Special offers complemented by mobile phone payment options make this technology a handy way to shop.

Pop-up stores

While high street stores are closing to make way for online stores, the online stores are seeing an opportunity to make a physical presence:

Initiatives such as PopUp Britain are encouraging retailers to show case their products or provide convenient services by capitalising on the empty high street shops. Retail start-ups can take advantage of an intense selling in-store.

Augmented reality windows are now used by online retailers such as online luxury fashion retailer Net-a-Porter that launched several one-off pop-up graphic stores called The Window Shop.

Intuitively Amazon has provided shoppers with lockers where they can pick up Amazon.co.uk parcels using a unique code. Lockers are currently available in a variety of locations throughout the UK such as in large shopping centres, convenience stores, newsagents and train stations.

Similarly auction site eBay provided 50 eBay merchants with the opportunity to be involved in a pilot scheme fulfil click‑and-collect orders through 150 UK Argos outlets.

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