During a media briefing last week, a representative for the National Retail Federation noted that in today's tough shopping environment, the stores that win tend to be those that have invested resources in integrating the digital and in-store experiences, also known as employing an omnichannel strategy. At some point in the future, he added, we won't even talk about "omnichannel" anymore. It will just be the way that retailers interact with customers.
We're not there quite yet. According to a new report from the digital research group L2, some players are doing omnichannel better than others. And on a whole, the luxury sector is not coming out a winner.
As Maureen Mullen, L2's co-founder and head of research, puts it, "Omnichannel is greasing the skids to purchase." That means everything from allowing shoppers to view inventory online, to offering in-store pickup and having the ability to ship packages not just from an online warehouse but also individual stores. From a company culture standpoint, it means structuring employee incentives such that both the e-commerce and in-store teams get credit when a customer makes a purchase.
Within the "notoriously weak" fashion world, the strongest omnichannel players are currently Gucci and Burberry, Mullen says. Gucci launched in-store inventory visibility to empower its customers, while Burberry has put that information in the hands of its sales associates; the latter is also one of the few luxury players that offers in-store pickup on online purchases. Nordstrom, which puts iPads in dressing rooms and in the hands of its employees, also offers the option to ship an online purchase from a nearby store, which both helps it clear inventory from slower-moving locations and get the product in the shopper's hands faster.
Of course, omnichannel has particular appeal for younger shoppers, for whom a self-serve model — being able to check inventory levels for themselves, etc. — can feel more authentic than working with a sales associate in the store, Mullen says. The younger generation doesn't necessarily need to be wooed with a glass of champagne when stepping inside a Prada store. They want better information.
In keeping with earlier reports, L2 notes an uptick in preference for "webrooming" — researching a product online but heading out to the store to make the purchase — over "showrooming," the practice of browsing in a store and finding a better price online that had a lot of retailers worried. Particularly with expensive luxury purchases, customers ultimately do want to touch and feel the product before buying — they just happen to enter the store much further down the purchase pipeline.
Plus, most people don't live in a doorman apartment building in Manhattan. Who wants to leave her Céline bag sitting on the front stoop all day?
Homepage photo: Angela Quitoriano