Rami Hmadeh ponders the question of omni-channel retail excellence
Dubai and ‘Shopping 2020’. Probably no city has evolved as quickly as Dubai did in the past decade. From its humble beginnings as a fishing village, it has emerged as today’s city of superlatives with no signs of slowing down. As it races towards its Vision 2020, Dubai is indeed today’s quintessential Utopia.
But what might a shopping haven like Dubai look like in 2020? Will Dubai outdo itself in setting yet another benchmark – in shopping to say the least? To answer this question, we turned to an initiative called ‘weShop’ – an ambitious retail project we thought might: 1) interest the digitally-connected Middle East consumer; and 2) pique the industry’s interest as the quest for omni-channel retail excellence continues to plague most brands.
THE CONNECTED CONSUMER
Today’s ‘always on’ consumer has set the bar extremely high. They now require fully integrated solutions as they narrow down – if not totally eliminate – the gap between the role physical retail environments play versus the role of online platforms in their overall shopping experience.
That’s because today’s Middle East consumer shops with an omni-channel approach, debunking the so-called fixed customer journey. Consumer omniscience, after all, dictates that their behaviour has changed so that they have individual purchase and consumption patterns – patterns they can likewise decide to alter as they see fit sometime down the road. Whether at home, on the move or in retail stores, they require a rich and consistent experience across all platforms.
On the flip side, today’s retailers are confronted with hyper-competitive environments with each player seeking to engage – and sell to – customers who are well-informed, highly critical, and more seamlessly connected than ever before. Now, most brands would react to such phenomenon with an equally well-thought through cross-channel targeting and retargeting strategy. Omni-channel for omni-channel as they say. But is omni-channel retail excellence really the solution to the evolved retail shopper?
WHEN WE OURSELVES ARE THE CONNECTED CONSUMER
At the Serviceplan Group, we have been chewing – and deliberating – on this subject long before the onslaught of the digital consumer, anticipating the time when we ourselves would get to enjoy the rewards of an uninterrupted retail experience.
Now I won’t ask you to imagine this situation because I know, like me, you’ve experienced this at one point or another. You’re out for coffee with friends. On your way to the café, you pass by your preferred retail brand and notice a winter jacket that looks perfect for your next Euro trip. You’ve been doing some online window shopping for sometime now, so this opportunity is just too good to pass up. After coffee, you drop by the shop only to find out they’ve run out of your size. A mannequin item is always the first to go, you are told, and so you are offered an analogue service. They call nearby branches in search of your preference, and after a good 15-minute wait, they find your size at a far-off branch, leaving you the option to drive over or to come back after a day or two.
Frustrated, you convince yourself that online shopping might still be your best resort, after all. We know this all too well, and so our quest for a seamless retail experience led us on a wild-goose chase for possible solutions. Maybe actual online access at the point of retail?
WESHOP AND THE CONNECTED CONSUMER
Now let’s look at a different, albeit ideal scenario. Imagine, you enter a boutique and are immediately welcomed by your first name, just like a friend. You go further and digital screens offer you products you already searched for and liked on the internet. Then you find a sweater you fancy, and of course, you try it on. Here the mirror turns into a screen and automatically provides more detailed information about the sweater. The sweater feels soft and comfortable and is made of 100 per cent sustainable materials. Browsing online, you even see that a friend has already liked it on Facebook. You pay for the sweater, but the only thing you do is put your card on the table and your new favourite sweater is well on its way to your doorstep.
This is the scenario we set-up to accomplish with weShop. A prototype for now, it is an intelligent showroom located at our Munich offices. Spanning around 50 square metres, it demonstrates how real and virtual worlds can come together in an innovative and harmonious fashion. Acting upon the knowledge that customers these days operate on an increasingly digital level using several channels, weShop lets customers decide whether they want to shop in a classical or digital manner.
In store, a range of products – basically the core collection – is readily available, while a larger online selection is easily retrievable all over the shop floor. Tablets mounted on shelves not only show the availability of products, but also carry alternative products or matching accessories. In addition, both the product label and the QR code on the tablet may be scanned facilitating an undisrupted shopping experience which can also be done on the spot, or later on via a mobile device.
The uniqueness of the weShop concept is the orchestration of all elements, i.e. the innovative merging of digital and classical items at the point of sale, which has never been accomplished in this way before.
It is the first pure omni-channel retailer where customers are free to choose between classical and digital – for themselves – at every shopping touchpoint. The shop thus follows the recognition that there is no fixed customer journey anymore but that every shopper has his or her own individual way of acting within the entire ecosystem. So we say, retail omni-channel definitely powers the digitally-connected consumer. Or will perhaps do so quite soon.
Rami Hmadeh is managing partner of Serviceplan Middle East