Image Credit: José Luis Barros/©Gulf News

Retail therapy and window shopping may still be a vital leisure pastime in Dubai but with the adoption of smart technology within a smart city, the art of shopping is set to become more scientific. It is no longer a choice of shopping in-store or online — with the rise of ‘one store’.

It’s arguable that ‘online’ has changed retail more than any other sector. Over the last few years, as new business models have emerged and everyone jostles for position, the hot issue has been how to deliver an omni-channel experience — an experience that optimises convenience by allowing customers to buy, try and return goods by any means that suits them.

While the vision is great, in reality it’s proving hard to achieve. In a recent survey of decision makers by Ernst & Young, just 5 per cent described their omni-channel strategy as ‘established’.

Visions aren’t always easy

In general retailers that have a successful omni-channel platform are those that have built systems from the ground up. This hints at one of the key challenges — building a unified supplied chain, with 81 per cent of senior executives (EY) saying that their supply chain holds their omni-channel strategy back.

A good example is same-day delivery. If I order a shirt online, I’ll probably have to wait 24 or 48 hours for delivery.

The order is processed via a stock system and sent to the warehouse that, in turn, picks the shirt, places it on a truck and sends it to me. But if I live in Dubai or London or another city, chances are my local store has the item and it could have been sent to me that same day or at least reserved for me to collect the same day.

What prevents this is a lack of visibility, or, confidence, over the stock position. And this is not uncommon.

On the face of it, optimising and updating the supply chain is an IT and operations issue. But there’s more at play here. And one of the reasons that it’s taking longer than many anticipated to create omni-channel supply chains is that departments struggle to work as one.

There’s another important reason as to why omni-channel hasn’t quite hit the heights. It’s that omni-channel retailers tend to focus on enhancing their online performance.

But if they don’t offer, for example, showrooms for people to come and try goods, or the option of collecting and returning items from a store or third-party location (just some aspects of a complete omni-channel experience), they could lose out.

With an out-of-stock item in a store, will the sales associate make the extra effort to press the customer to order online there and then if the dotcom team — rather than the store — is rewarded with the sale?

With these issues in mind, it’s time to think about the concept of One Store.

The name One Store is designed to move us beyond thinking of separate channels. We also want to encourage people to not see this as a technology project, but as an ‘everything project’ — that touches all aspects of the retailer’s business.

A retail business that operates as One Store recognises that, when a customer wakes up in the morning and gets ready to shop, they don’t think about what channel they’re going to interact with. And their purchase journey is very fluid. Their shopping may include visiting the online store to look at prices, checking in to Facebook, looking at a fashion blog, viewing Instagram accounts, seeing something in a shop window, trying things on and more. In a One Store approach, everywhere the customer interacts with the retailer, from Facebook to Twitter to point-of-sale in store, presents them with the same messages about the brand, culture, values and prices.

It also allows them to buy, try and return in a way that’s truly convenient to them. So how do we achieve the One Store approach?

Five steps to One Store

1. See everything everywhere: Complete visibility over stock is essential. Track and trace technologies such as bar coding and RFID can optimise efficiencies in your supply chain and help you see everything, everywhere. Think, too, about how you lead people, as unprecedented collaboration is needed across the organisation to achieve complete supply chain visibility.

2. Scale the supply chain: Delivery is now one of the key battlegrounds of omni-channel. With the right systems in place, it’s easier to add new services. These could be same-day delivery, click-and-collect from store or drop locations, and showrooms where people can try products are popular.

Adding more ways for people to try, shop and return will add to the feeling that here’s a store built around them.

3. Improve your data: In some ways marketing is harder than it used to be. In the ‘old days’ the purchase journey was clear and linear. We used to segment people into chunky groups and communicate with them en masse.

Nowadays customers may touch the business in many different ways. While this creates challenges, the rise of social media also means we can be more targeted and personal. By capturing data where we can (with the customer’s permission), we can use technology to present a clear, consistent and personalised experience across digital and physical touchpoints.

4. Success is in store: When people come into the store, it needs to be a fantastic experience. Help sales teams to provide this by ensuring that they know the products well to help the customer validate their buying decision, are incentivised to make sales and have the right tools (eg, tablets and hand-held computers) to answer questions and order out-of-stock items.

The latter is especially important given that 83 per cent of people now come in to store with good product knowledge or armed with a smartphone and ready to use it as part of their shopping experience.

5. Personalise promotions: As well as providing loyalty and discount offers online and via digital, you can also be more personal in store. Using a mobile app, or having gained prior permission to communicate with them, you can send a personal greeting to customers welcoming them to the store and send them offers and enhanced product information while they shop.

With the rise of Bluetooth beacons, you can even target discounts or information for items that you can see they are looking at right now. Also, if someone has stopped in a particular area, the sales assistant can approach them, greet them by name and ask if they need help.

With new technology improving all the time — especially track and trace and the way we connect separate databases — a new era of innovation awaits. It promises to support new channels to market, allows us to get personal with the way we sell to increase loyalty, and deliver a dynamic and rewarding One Store experience online, in-store and mobile.

The writer is Head of Middle East operations at Zebra Technologies.