In celebration of the fact that my Forrester Boss, Patti Freeman Evans, was over this week in London, we thought we’d go on a multichannel retail shopping tour of London to see just how well some major UK retailers are integrating their on- and offline channels and enticing their shoppers into engaging with them online.

The answer is sadly, not very well at all.

Hitting Oxford Street on a sunny Friday at lunch time, we performed an eyes-on tour of a rough cross-section of some of the better-known UK brands. We went looking for exciting new uses of technology disrupting the in-store environment. Examples of beautifully integrated online/offline/mobile channels placing the customer at the heart of the brand experience. Innovative applications of technology that seamlessly blended the digital and physical brands, enticing shoppers into engaging with these premier retailers both now, and later when they got home. Or even, how excitingly, via their mobile phones.

So while a hungry band of devotees of the fruit-flavored tech-god gathered outside the Apple Store, not realizing that just round the corner they could get their paws on a new iPad 2, sans queue, we started our shopping trip.

Flippancy aside, we were looking specifically for how well multichannel retailers are integrating physical and digital channels.

The results were (depressing) surprising :

Nike = awesome. Greeted by a massive video wall as we entered, we found a store that centered on the customer experience. Up on the top floor we found demos of the Nike iPad fitness app. Best of all was a fully integrated, in-store custom sneaker designer service powered by a slick bank of Macs and crewed by extremely knowledgeable, friendly, and helpful sales staff. Design your sneakers in-store, save them to your “Locker,” work on them later at home, and then order them. The only black mark was that Patti couldn’t design her new Air Force 1's in London and pick them up in NYC, but overall, a brilliantly integrated retail experience.

John Lewis = an acceptable benchmark. After 2 minutes in the store, we found a very user-friendly digital price checker. John Lewis promises to price-match other retailers, so my iPhone bar code scanner didn’t help me get a bargain there. There was a click-and-collect service with a well-placed, dedicated collection counter and plenty of clear signage encouraging you to check out the website, including one massive sign that dwarfed Patti. They even have a plush, inviting Internet-ordering lounge where staff can help you order today for home delivery or for in-store collection tomorrow. You were left in no doubt as to your shopping options, and they made it easy enough to reach out to the Internet while you were in store.

Carphone Warehouse = not quite Best Buy. Though it is clearly not bringing best practices over from the mothership yet, it did have some in-store video displays and some references to its website. We had high expectations of a tech retailer with such an interesting heritage in its US parent for innovation like QR codes, engagement with its online experience, and some level of integration.  Sadly not.

French Connection = missed opportunity. On the plus side, its brand is very consistently represented across store and the Web. But considering it has a beautifully executed website rich in slickly produced video, the only noticeable link to the website is in 8-point font at the bottom of its in-store style magazine. Hmmmm.

United Colors of Benetton = epic fail. Despite an enticing logo on the back of its style magazine encouraging us to hold it in front of our webcam to unlock cool new content, one of the sales girls didn’t know what a webcam was and the other was a bit too busy stock-checking (on Friday lunch time!) to help us much. 

All in all, a bit surprising. Considering that 72% of online adults in the UK buy products on the Internet, UK retailers seem a little shy of reminding their consumers that they can continue to shop from the comfort of their own homes. 

Is this really the best we can do ?

I’ve challenged Patti to do a similar eyes-on floor walk of some New York stores. Let’s see if they are making a better show of things.