At the start of the year, I published a piece of research looking at the major trends we predicted would hit Europe this year. One of the themes I called out was building on Peter Sheldon’s excellent research around The Digitization Of The In-Store Environment; as I put it in European Online Retail: Five Trends To Watch In 2013:“The web and the store will cuddle up.”
We’ve seen significant investment from US retailers in this space. Lowes, Home Depot, Nordstrom, and others have all been spending heavily on developing the underlying infrastructures that they can then leverage to create in-store digital experiences. Store Wi-Fi, associate devices like tablets or smartphones, kiosk technology, and even more emerging technologies like ePaper signage and electronic shelf-edge labels are on some agendas. Even Amtrak is getting in on the act with its eTicketing initiative.
But European firms are following at a more sedate pace. When we take a look at the expectations of European consumers versus their North American counterparts, it's interesting to see that European shoppers have significantly higher expectations as to what a digitally enabled store will deliver. Yet almost universally, European retailers are failing to unlock this potential.
When you also consider the changing face of the physical retail environment and the shift in balance from high street to edge of town and from hypermarket to convenience, reinventing the role of the store in a wider multichannel context becomes even more critical. Firms like Blockbuster have failed to crack this, to their cost, and others like Jessops and HMV in the UK are wrestling with this question now. Both chains know they need to downsize their store estates, but neither yet seem able to articulate a vision of how a digitally enabled store will play a vital part in an overall retail experience.
This last question is one we address in Powering The Agile Store.
eBusiness executives are ideally positioned to play a critical and strategic role in helping to reinvent the physical retail experience. They have the digital skills and know-how and can focus on the full customer life cycle to identify new sources of customer value — something many of their colleagues can’t bring to the table. This isn’t just limited to multichannel firms either. Pure plays like Net-A-Porter are flirting with the high street as they look to leverage mobile to extend their reach beyond the traditional desktop- or laptop-bound Web.
So, eBusiness executives: If your firm has in-store digitization plans and you aren’t part of them, then you really need to be. And if your firm doesn’t have plans, then you really should be kick-starting things before it's too late.