Retailers in London’s West End continue to invest in e-commerce solutions as in-store and online experiences begin to merge, according to research released this week.
Virgin Media Business conducted a study looking at which technologies are being used by flagship stores in the English capital’s Oxford Street, with the aim of enhancing the shopping experience in the crucial run-up to Christmas.
The research found that 23 per cent of Oxford Street flagships are offering in-store ‘order online’ touchscreen terminals for store collection or delivery, with Niketown providing attendants taking payments on mobile devices in the hopes of reducing queuing times.
As many as 61 per cent of stores surveyed have invested in an m-commerce offering and 46 per cent have a mobile phone app to allow shoppers to make purchases on the move.
As the British Retail Consortium and Google recently reported that mobile searches for retail offerings have grown 168 per cent year-on-year, such a move represents a strong opportunity to increase sales.
Last month, department store group John Lewis announced its intention to offer free Wi-Fi across its UK stores, allowing customers to access product information and view ratings and reviews in store prior to purchase.
The retailer noted that 60 per cent of its customers research products online, and the new technology will allow wireless connectivity to the internet via any wireless-enabled PC, tablet or smartphone.
It is hoped that the development will be rolled-out across all stores prior to Christmas and Patrick O’Brien, principal analyst at Verdict Research, claims that such a development is a shrewd move.
Speaking to Retail Gazette, he said: “While some high street retailers see smartphone usage in store as a threat, some are now seeing it as an opportunity to engage with customers, offering in-store apps or mobile optimised websites where customers can find out more information about the store or particular products.”
While O’Brien concedes that m-commerce currently maintains only a small share of the market, just 0.5 per cent of the overall retail market in the UK, he claims that consumers are becoming more confident in the way they use their devices, as two-thirds of all UK phones sold are now smartphones.
“Not only that, but while smartphones are not where many transactions are made, they are increasingly becoming the place where retail decisions are being made, as they are often used to check prices, browse on the go, reserve products for collection or find more information on products using QR codes,” he added.
“High street retailers that are best placed to take advantage of in-store and online technology are those that have managed to get their online offerings in-line with their in-store offerings in terms of consistent pricing between channels and by offering real time stock information.
“The continued growth of e-commerce and the more recent explosion in m-commerce is down to two main reasons, convenience and cost.”
According to a report released last week by the Centre for Retail Research,retail sales in the UK are expected to grow to £69.09 billion this Christmas, rising by one per cent compared to last year.
The organisation stated that internet retailing is predicted to increase by 16.3 per cent, bringing in £1.88 billion to the UK economy.
Phil Stewart, Director of Customer Service at Virgin Media Business, explained that the Christmas period is the most profitable season for retailers.
“Last year’s online Christmas sales hit £2.8 billion, up 44 per cent from the year before,” he commented.
“And with one pound in every ten now being spent online, it’s likely this year will be even more. But it’s a multichannel approach that will hone and improve the customer experience and ultimately make a retailer successful.
“New high bandwidth connectivity options for UK retailers are enabling the use of more and more innovative technology solutions to improve the shoppers experience and provide that essential USP to attract customers in a highly competitive market.
“By making the right technology decisions, both in store and online, both retailers and consumers stand to get the benefits from this new digital era. For me, I’ll be looking forward to browsing and ordering my friends presents from the comfort of my sofa, or maybe on the move on my smartphone – rather than facing the crowds this Christmas.”