Multichannel Retail Experience
Multichannel, as opposed to multiplatform, retailing is not a new concept; it has been around quite a long time – probably from when the first retailers decided to produce mail order catalogues back in the 1930s in Britain (although mail-order catalogues had been around in their own right for a lot longer than this). Since then, and probably before, retailers have been continually looking for fresh outlets and new ways of selling their products. Until the Internet came along there had not been a great many innovations in the field since the mail-order catalogue, although TV had offered some opportunities for experimentation. The rise in pace of technological development and the advent of the World Wide Web changed everything.
The web offered not only a new potential outlet and mass exposure to new customers; it actually held out the possibility of a complete new world for retailers where bricks and mortar stores and direct, physical contact with the customer were no longer seen as essential to making sales. And your customer needn’t be in the same town, area or even country. As the hypermarket had shifted the concept of physical shopping from town centres with lots of small specialist shops to out-of-town locations with a wide range of goods under one roof, so the Internet shifted the concept away from physical marketplaces altogether.
Up till now the traffic had been pretty much one way with many famous names such as Littlewoods and Woolworths becoming online only stores after their high street businesses had failed. But now it seems the tide may be turning a little with some of the big names in online retailing, such as Amazon and Asos, considering opening high street locations. There is a growing conviction among both retail and property analysts that this is a trend that will be followed by other major online retailers and could herald something of a resurrection of high-street retailing and renewed interest in multichannel retail.
To some extent the Argos chain has shown the way in this area. Argos was a catalogue retailer at the time catalogue retailing was not fashionable but managed to combine the concepts of a high-street presence with catalogue retailing and then with online when the Internet opened up further avenues. It has continued to manage the three strands of its business as the Internet has grown and high-street outlets have dwindled, without any obvious major damage to its brand or business.
This counterrevolution might be more appropriate for some sectors than others; for example fashion and high-value jewellery retailers often benefit from the ability to physically view, handle and wear the items. Having said that Argos offers a pretty diversified range of products, albeit with restricted facilities for viewing and handling in their high-street sites.
Some analysts believe that this inverse reintegration, known as clicks to bricks or etail to retail is actually the future for the sector with the reintegration of physical premises into online businesses to provide the complete shopping experience for customers. The basics of the concept would be something like buyers using the Internet to identify the goods they want but then visiting the high-street outlets to actually view, try and purchase the products. The underlying premise is that the individual channels complement each other and are not in competition or separate so an item ordered or bought from one strand can be collected, returned or exchanged through another. The hope is that this will combine the convenience and universality of the Internet with the individuality and personal pleasure that high-street shopping offers.
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