If the last 18 months has shown us anything, it’s that our brands have to be available wherever and whenever the customer wants to shop. Omnichannel is just that – and the challenge is how to curate the experience, maintain control of the brand and the Customer relationship and, importantly, the data.
So, 3 things:
Go where the customer is
Look beyond traditional distribution to marketplaces, partnerships, international and even licensing if appropriate. For mainstream fashion brands, that might mean Asos, Zalando or GFG; or for more luxury players Farfetch, Matches, YNAP, for example. By launching Friends of Joules, the host brand has attracted new customers to its site, enriched the online experience and offset any margin decline through higher basket size. B&Q now has branches in Asda, bringing an out of town, big box concept closer to where the consumer lives, and AO has done a similar deal with Tesco, with distinct and well branded shop in shops, which complement a slimmed down general merchandise offer.
Some pureplays are now opening stores to bring the brand to life and create a closer relationship with customers. Take Joe Browns for example, the Leeds based catalogue into online lifestyle company has now opened a highly experiential store in Meadowhall, to broaden awareness and allow consumers to touch and feel the brand.
What can’t amazon do?
We’re all, rightly, obsessed with the inexorable rise of Amazon, but the question is, what can’t they do? And the answer is – curation, experience and service.
On or offline, how well do you know your customer and how personalised an experience do you offer? How well trained are your instore colleagues? Do you have a local ‘clientelling’ programme?
Online, the days of static postage stamp size images, 24 to a page are gone. What does it feel like, how does it move or work? Asos has introduced a feature which shows the same outfit on models of all shapes and sizes, which was a godsend during lockdown, as it helped take the guess work out of online shopping. The plan now is to go one further and allow the shopper to upload an avatar of their image and ‘try on’ different outfits virtually.
Stick to your knitting
As a small or niche brand should you focus on your strengths and outsource the rest? Continual investment in sophisticated technology is becoming unsustainable for all but the largest players and we’re starting to see the emergence of a new wholesale model via the digital department store, together with a more holistic approach to partnerships and alliances.
Next The Label offers a wide selection which drives considerable traffic to its’ site and it has now taken the next logical step with Total Platform, whereby smaller brands can leverage all the back office functions of warehousing, fulfilment and logistics and focus their own resources on the added value areas of product design, marketing and customer experience. And crucially, unlike some 3rd party sites, this enables them to maintain control of their data. Peter Williams of Jack Wills fame has just relaunched his Aubin brand and, for him, a tie up with Next was a no brainer.
You may have seen recently that M&S has finally embraced other brands, such as Ghost, Hobbs, Joules and Jaeger – which it acquired in another first earlier this year – which fit, and hopefully extend, its consumer demographic. John Lewis is now following suit, introducing 100 third party brands to its website over the next 12 months. Reduced margins for both parties are offset by greater awareness, access, convenience and consumer choice – a win/win all round.
And just last week, US giant Walmart has launched GoLocal, a third-party service allowing smaller retailers to tap into its delivery infrastructure and of course this allows the world’s 2nd largest retailer to compete more effectively with the first!
The world of commerce will continue to evolve- just think how your own shopping habits have changed in the last few years. Attention spans get shorter, expectations get higher and wherever and whenever we want to access a brand, directly or indirectly, we want an excellent experience and great service.
Written by Fran Minogue, Volunteer Advisor and Founder at Clarity Search.