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A shift in consumer behaviour has seen the retail sector transition from bricks alone to a combination of bricks and clicks. With new shopping demographics purchasing products in a different format, the rise in e-commerce success has no doubt driven the recent retail revolution, with the world of digital proving increasingly important.

The UK has the third largest e-commerce market in the world, with the most recent government figures suggesting UK consumers will have spent a total of £106.46 billion online in 2019. Further expansion and progression of e-commerce is vast, with figures computing that by the year 2021, roughly 93 percent of UK internet users are expected to partake in online shopping, the highest online shopping penetration rate across Europe. Whilst these figures paint a picture that positions e-commerce at the forefront of modern retail success, that’s not the full story. Still today, almost eight in ten retail pounds spent are in physical stores, with research suggesting that in order to compete for future success, a combination of physical and digital assets is required in the form of an omnichannel approach.

Omnichannel retail is a retail industry term used to describe brands selling across channels, including branded websites, marketplaces, bricks and mortar stores and social commerce such as Facebook and Instagram. This modern approach to retail focuses on designing a well-rounded user experience at each touchpoint and creating a buying journey worthy of purchases in the modern era. The approach believes that each of the key elements of an omnichannel strategy are all of individual importance; a bricks and mortar store, concession or showroom is important for customer interaction in order to build trust, a branded website is key for customer convenience and accessibility and the opportunity to sell across social channels taps into the increasing prevalence of recommendation purchasing.

Anne Davies, owner of online children’s bedroom retailer Room to Grow, has seen the changing face of retail first-hand. Taking over the business in 2012, Anne has worked through the progression of consumer behaviour and over the last seven years has witnessed shoppers begin to increasingly embrace the purchasing of children’s bedroom furniture from Room to Grow online.

When asked about the evolution of retail, Anne agrees in the belief that the ‘future is omnichannel’. She goes on to explain “Whilst on-line allows you to showcase thousands of products, it can never replace the in-store experience where you can touch and feel. AI is helping to bridge that gap but it can never replace it. On-line allows you to reach millions of customers but different customers shop in different ways and having a physical presence would allow consumers to really understand the Room to Grow brand. Along with our website and social channels, it is our ambition to open a showroom in the next couple of years to allow a full omni-channel experience.”

The complexity and diversity of retailing into 2020 is great, with research suggesting that retailers and suppliers should consider an omnichannel approach as a newfound efficient concept that could well solidify their place in the future retail marketplace. Keeping abreast of the omnichannel trends that are set to shape the industry throughout 2020 is of key importance; product recommendations, social media and digital innovation are all expected to change the way consumers make their purchases.

Product Recommendations

A great omnichannel experience feels familiar to the customer, regardless of the channel they are currently accessing. One way in which consumers become more accustomed to a brand across channels is through product recommendations. Empowered by social networks and digital devices, consumers are increasingly having the opportunity to dictate where, when and how they engage with brands. In today’s market, not only have consumers been given a voice, they are willing to use this to share their opinions and experiences to others. With recent research suggesting that nearly half of Brits will check ratings online before making a purchase, the importance of reviews is clear, user reviews increase conversions. The implementation of ecommerce consumer reviews eliminates any doubt potential customers may have about a product that they have been unable to access in a physical store, as well as reinforcing positivity around products that have been tested in store but are going to be purchased online.

Social Shopping

From a platform standpoint, visual platforms such as the likes of Instagram and Pinterest have proven pioneers in the world of social shopping, yet Facebook is also improving leaps and bounds in its quest to supporting social purchasing. In an age where consumers scroll for inspiration and demand the option for immediate purchasing, Instagram are continuing to improve their in-app buying options, with the introduction of tap to shop and most recently the introduction of the ‘checkout feature’ which allows the purchasing of goods without having to leave the app to visit an external site. With a huge 24 million active users on Instagram within the UK, the potential for sales growth is massive. Instagram believe they can continue to support the growth of social purchasing by increasing the level of product discovery on offer in the app. By personalising the viewable products and brand content to each individual user, Instagram believe they are much more likely to convert meaningful sales through casual engagements as opposed to specific searches. By investing resources into visual social media apps, retailers can expect to see an uplift in social shopping.

Digital Innovation

The consumers love for convenience, preference for immersive and interactive experiences, desire for above and beyond services and enthusiasm for progressive content across channels has forced a shift in the use of retail technology. Leveraging consumers mobile devices in order to engage with them across channels will be key for 2020, with the likes of Artificial Intelligence, Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality being used to help brands interact with the customer. An omnichannel approach will allow for the use of smartphones within the physical environment, with the likes of H&M and Sainsbury’s acting as pioneers for this across-channel activity. H&M offer an immersive experience through an in-store mode within the H&M app. This mode allows consumers to connect to the store’s assortment, find available sizes and colours and check if favourite online products are available in store at the touch of a button. Sainsbury’s are also trialling a digital and in-store combination experience, recently launching the UK’s first till-free grocery store. Shoppers at the Holborn Circus store in London can utilise a combination of SmartShop Scan and Pay & Go technology to simply scan and pay for groceries using a smartphone. The retail giant believes that this shift will make grocery shopping both quicker and more convenient and expect to continue to roll this out across stores throughout the next couple of years.

Though the ever-changing retail landscape can be daunting, by arming a business with the knowledge of a progressive strategy, success within a saturated retail market is much more likely. Couple this was a multi-channel approach, up to date technology and customer feedback and 2020 is set to be a huge year for retail.

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