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Webification and retail IT – Taking ecommerce to the shop floor

Last month saw J Sainsbury chief executive Mike Coupe vow to reinvent the supermarket and push the boundaries of shopping in order to fight falling sales.

And with low cost grocery players like Aldi and Lidl nipping at the heels of the supermarket giants, it’s no wonder he is looking to innovate to arrest a further slip in market share.

While exact plans are currently unclear, it appears technology will be central to the fight back against low-cost competitors, with a focus on mobile and a commitment to create 480 specialty digital roles. While these initiatives might be a significant disruption in the world of grocery shopping, the truth is that other retail segments have been experimenting with alternative tech-driven experiences for quite some time, increasingly integrating ecommerce functionality with in-store environments – a growing trend known as ‘webification’.

Many major retailers are already in the process of adapting to changing market dynamics and customer expectations when it comes to their offline shopping experience. Argos, Carpetright and Burberry are just some of the brands that have opened digitally enhanced concept stores in recent years. And The Entertainer is significantly improving both customer enquiry resolution and conversion, and Click and Collect performance by deploying shop floor tablet devices. The independent toy retailer is now able to offer a 30 minute Click and Collect service, a development that saw sales via this channel grow by more than 80 per cent over Christmas 2014, accounting for 35 per cent of the company’s online sales.

It’s clear that British shoppers are hungry for new and convenient digital innovations when it comes to their purchasing experience. Research from Kantar Worldpanel, for instance, shows an increase in UK online sales of 20 per cent last year, and we currently lead Europe in the use of contactless payments.

So how else should retailers be looking to implement webification? The shop floor tablets used by The Entertainer are a great starting point. For example, they can be used to enable easy review of a store’s entire inventory, the traditional in-store equivalent of which would be incredibly laborious, even with the help of a shop assistant. By arming assistants with a tablet computer, retailers can provide the shopper with an ‘endless aisle’ experience similar to that of ecommerce. Moreover, these devices can also allow assistants to process payments anywhere in-store, and even provide personalised recommendations.

The mass adoption of smartphones and the advent of low cost tracking tools also provide retailers with great opportunities to market within the ‘webified’ store. Facebook, for instance, has recently started offering businesses free Place Tips beacon devices, allowing retailers to detect when a user is nearby and initiate an appropriate response. This could include sending information straight into the user’s News Feed, notifying them of upcoming events, popular products, and content the customer’s friends have posted in relation to the same brand or location.

This geo-location based technology allows retailers to analyse and react to customer behaviour in real time - incredibly useful functionality that previously has only been accessible via the likes of clickstream analytics and cookie-marketing found on online platforms. Using these tools, retailers can offer customers promotions and information based on where they are, and their previous shopping habits. These offers have the potential to entice more shoppers into stores as they pass by, and encourage existing customers to stay loyal with contextually-aware, personalised offers that they will really be interested in.

It’s an unavoidable fact that the ease and convenience of online shopping has led to sky-high consumer expectations; expectations that can only be matched if brands find ways to integrate ecommerce functions customers love with bricks and mortar retail environments.

There is already some great work being done in this space by a number of high street names. Retail IT decision makers should look to these brands for inspiration before kicking on and developing their own ideas in this area.

Joe Ballard, director of business consulting, hybris and SAP Customer Engagement and Commerce.