Most brands and retailers that L2 meets with believe they are following the right path for omnichannel success because they tick all three boxes of online, in-store and mobile commerce. However, if each of these channels is being operated largely independent of the others — for example, under a head of e-commerce, a head of retail and a head of mobile, each with individual KPIs — then it is likely that these companies are simply delivering a multi-channel experience for their customers.

L2 recently published its annual benchmarking Intelligence Report on Omnichannel Retailing. This research reveals that very few brands offer consumers a fully integrated and seamless shopping experience across all three channels: the indicators of a truly omnichannel strategy.

For example, only five of the 97 brands and retailers benchmarked by L2 in the study deliver both a strong online shopping experience and an easy path from their website to their retail stores: Walgreens, Nordstrom, Target, Staples and Petsmart. In UK, only Argos made the grade.

Some of the weakest brands at omnichannel fall into the specialty retail and luxury sectors. For example, H&M, Vans, Fossil, Chanel, Gucci and Prada neither provide a simple process for buying online nor encourage people to continue their shopping in-store. Given the investments that luxury brands put into their retail experience, this seems a big fail. The days when consumers expect a website to be purely a product brochure have long past.

Digitally innovative retailers, struggling to maintain margins now that consumers expect free next day delivery, are realising that fulfilment costs are dramatically reduced if you persuade your customers to buy online but collect in-person from a store. The added bonus of this approach is that basket sizes often increase, as customers purchase additional items when collecting their orders in-store.

This strategy of investing in ‘click & collect’ is one area where Europe leads America. In US, only 12% of specialty retailers offer buy online and collect in-store, whilst in UK some 58% do. In France, in the last two years Carrefour, Casino, Intermarché and Système U have boosted the number of drive-through collection points by 150% to 2,884 locations.

Whereas click & collect was the omnichannel buzz phrase of 2015, L2’s report reveals that the hot investment of 2016 was the launch of real-time visibility of in-store inventory, especially in the luxury sector where stores may only stock a handful of each item. Some 52% of US and UK retailers now enable website users to check whether a specific product is in stock at their local store and available to purchase or reserve.

Omnichannel

Department stores have been especially innovative here as a survival strategy in the face of a very challenging sales environment. L2 Digital Genius brand, Nordstrom, automatically detects your location to show stock availability at your closest store. In the UK, Marks & Spencer and Selfridge’s both added live in-store inventory feeds in 2016 to encourage customers to transition from site to store.

However, a focus on only the website and the store is simply a bi-channel strategy. With one-third of all online purchases now taking place on mobile devices and smaller screens consuming two-thirds of our digital time, mobile is the secret ingredient for true omnichannel success.

Forward-thinking brands regard the opportunity through mobile as extending beyond just the rendering of their website onto a smaller screen. Instead, it has the potential to enhance the whole online and in-store shopping experience.

For example, Burberry uses a Facebook Messenger chat bot for customer service; Sephora uses the camera to create personalised make-up tutorials superimposed on your face; Starbucks offers mobile ordering and when you collect your coffee you can pay with your mobile.

Amazon’s ambition to open retail stores under the Amazon Go brand provides an indication of mobile’s future as an in-store technology: by eliminating the store checkout completely.

With nine out of 10 consumers using their smartphones in-store — to check prices, research products or even pay — it is surprising that 76% of European retailers still do not integrate any in-store functionality into their mobile apps.

Even fewer follow the lead of Apple, Lowe’s and Amazon in equipping store assistants with mobile devices to empower them to better serve customers. By arming retail employees with immediate access to product information, aisle location, pricing and availability, these digital innovators are delivering on the omnichannel promise by focusing on the customer experience.

In a mobile-first world, there’s a big opportunity for retailers to stand out by removing the internal silos that create barriers between different channels and instead doubledown on creating a truly exceptional omnichannel shopping experience for their customers.

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