browsingRetailers are increasingly recognising that browsing online and in-store is an important part of the shopping experience as they cast aside conversion rates to focus more on boosting dwell times and improving engagement. By Glynn Davis

Speaking at a packed Retail Bulletin Omni-channel Summit 2015 in London last week, Aaron Chatterley, founder of Feelunique, says: “Our conversion rate is only five per cent so only one in 20 people through the [online] door purchases. They are digitally browsing and we do a lot of editorial with beauty experts so we want them to spend time ‘in-store’. It might have a detrimental effect on conversion but its greater engagement.”

Not all about conversion

The idea is that this is simply part of the new multi-channel shopping journeys of consumers today and that this improved engagement will ultimately lead to them purchasing with these retailers rather than with their rivals.

Matt Stead, multi-channel director at Pets at Home, agrees and suggests Pets at Home is almost regarded as a “free zoo” by some customers. But he adds: “It’s the business we’re in. Content and dwell time on the web and in-store are very important. When customers are in-store we take the opportunity to give them lots of advice on their pets.”

It is this engagement that has helped Pets at Home sign-up three million members (11 million pets) to its VIP scheme since its launch two years ago. This has helped it gain insight into its customers and deliver personalised content as well as having as impact on ranging in its individual stores.

With only one outlet and a mere three per cent of sales online it would be easy for Peter Mitchell, managing director of department store Jarrold, to concentrate only on his Norwich department store but he also recognises the value of browsing – in this case online.

Research had shown that local customers had a low conversion rate online compared with non-locals but they were using the online channel to research. It was also found that 65% of the company’s customers were buyers of goods online from John Lewis but only 6% had bought from the Jarrold website.

“It was loud and clear that we can’t keep customers loyal in-store without having a website – as they are clearly multi-channel, and we’re not fulfilling them in a multi-channel sense unless we provide this online presence. We recognised that local customers browse online and buy in-store,” he explains.

Online drives marketing

So although online sales are growing – the aim is for it to represent 5-8% of total sales – the key objective of the channel is mainly as a marketing tool and a browsing platform that it can use to engage people – including through linking to social media.

“We can develop social [media] skill sets. Social is more important to us than clicks revenue. We can do this better than the national [department store] chains. It’s about people talking to people. As an example we invite beauty bloggers into the store and this leads to an avalanche of social activity,” says Mitchell.

Expertise is the key

Content is also a vital component of the Snow+Rock business as it competes against a number of big pure-plays and large multi-channel operators. David Kohn, multi-channel director at Snow+Rock Group, admits the company cannot compete on price and size of range with the likes of Amazon and Sports Direct so the strategy has been to position the business as the authority on the products it sells.

“We want to be the absolute authority on product and advice and be the place you go to participate [in your chosen activity] seriously. Our people are our secret sauce and we use their expertise to populate the [product] searches online,” he explains.

By employing experts the retailer has been able to enhance its navigation online with goods split into a mix of product types and activity categories. There are then sub-categories again determined by the in-house experts.

Their knowledge is also utilised on blog posts, item descriptions, product reviews and videos as well as a ‘live chat’ option that has just been added to the website to enable better engagement with customers.

Kohn also reveals the business has been experimenting with behavioural psychology whereby a customer’s actions on the site can prompt simple messaging to aid their journey if it looks like they are unsure at any point. It seeks to replicate the assistance they would receive in-store.

Blurring across channels

This attempt to copy attributes across channels in order to deliver a seamless multi-channel experience to shoppers is prevalent in the retail industry today and Dressipi is an example of the increased blurring across the channels.

It involves the creation of a Fashion Fingerprint for each individual shopper that highlights their preferences and personal sizing, and also the detailed attributes of all the products of the fashion retailers the company works with – that include Marks & Spencer, the Arcadia Group brands and Shop Direct.

Sarah McVittie, co-founder of Dressipi, says it has been used as an online tool but recently a mobile version has been developed that can be used by store employees on tablet devices. This helps them look up customers’ previous purchases and recommend items in-store.

It has just launched a trial with Wallis – where 30-40% of customers have a Fashion Fingerprint – to run various shopper journeys. Depending on the reason the customer is in-store – e.g. looking for special occasion wear – the sales assistant can use the Fingerprint data to pull up the most suitable items for that customer and also highlight complimentary goods. Items not in-stock can be ordered from the device for click & collect or home delivery.

Click & collect rolls on

There is certainly no escaping click & collect as a phenomenon in retail and it is a major part of the online business of John Lewis. Rupert Thorpe, senior manager of stock management development, revealed to delegates that over 50% of the retailer’s online orders are now collected in a store. As many as 66% of these are picked up from the group’s Waitrose stores or from convenience stores via Collect+

Such has been the value of click & collect that Thorpe says it ensured the company was able to fulfil all orders during the unprecedented sales surge of Black Friday. “The customers had confidence that they would get hold of their goods and we understood where the cut-off should be for enabling pick-up in-store for the next day or to ship later,” he says.

Although Chatterley acknowledges the value of collection points he questions the relevance of click & collect services. He believes there are very few retailers that have the power to take full advantage of it – as a result of them not having a sufficiently broad store portfolio.

This point highlights how the emergence of new technologies and models of retailing are leading to a vibrant sector whereby there are now myriad ways of giving the customer a powerful experience.


By Alison