Preparing for a boundaryless retail experience

Retailers are transforming into digital-first businesses as a customer-led digital revolution takes place, but can they provide seamless omnichannel experiences?
28 June 2018

Alexandre Bompard, CEO of Carrefour. Source: Flickr / ActuaLitté

Many are too slow and too reactive to think big, invest in disruptive technology and reimagine themselves to better meet the needs of digitally savvy, connected shoppers.

So take a bow, which last week showed how it should be done.

The Chinese e-commerce giant reported that transaction volume reached a record high of US$24.7 billion during its 18-day June anniversary sales event (aka 6.18).

It leveraged its ‘smart’ supply chain and technologies to fuse online and offline shopping for a ‘boundaryless retail’ experience. And the results were impressive.

Tens of millions of consumers visited JD pop-up stores and experience centers around China over the 18-day period, sampling snacks, testing home appliances and trying on clothes.

The pop-ups, which spanned 30 cities and received over 43 million visits, gave 1,400 brands a space to showcase their products and interact with Chinese shoppers.

Through JD’s crowdsourced delivery affiliate, JD Daojia, shoppers were also able to buy products from offline stores for delivery to their homes.

Augmented reality technology also played a key role. 70 percent of consumers who purchased color lenses first used JD’s AR Styling Station, via its mobile app, to test the look on their faces.

In one day alone, JD sold 52,000 boxes of Johnson & Johnson’s 1 Day Acuvue Moist lenses.

As for the best-of-the-rest, we’re seeing a number of anti-Amazon alliances, including High Street stalwart Marks and Spencer inking a strategic partnership with Microsoft focused on testing the integration of its AI technologies into the retailer’s stores and wider operations.

Carrefour has also partnered with Google. Shoppers will, from early 2019, be able to buy the former’s products through Google platforms including Home, Assistant and a new Google shopping website in France.

Overall, however, there’s a huge disparity between physical and digital channels as well as e-commerce issues that need to be urgently addressed.

Only 50 percent of retailers believe they offer the same level of customer experience online as they do in-store, according to iAdvize research involving 500 retail businesses.

And e-commerce site performance is embarrassingly slow, especially on mobile, as third-party technologies impact page load times, according to a Retail Systems Research/Yottaa report.

This evaluated 80 major retail websites and ranked them from 1 to 80, with the average score being 45 percent.

While many received high marks for “beautiful, intuitive, and shoppable” mobile experiences, almost all of them were penalized for being very slow.

Seamless omnichannel experiences and digital transformations make for good press releases, but, as Andy Mulcahy, Strategy and Insight Director, IMRG, recently commented: “Many speak about focusing on in-store ‘experience’ but in many cases the solutions don’t seem to be very different from what was there before. It seems likely that retail is in for a rocky period of readjustment, that might take several years, before blueprints for a successful physical retail space become more apparent.”