When the internet first started becoming widespread, I remember there being a level of uncertainty about how it would impact the retail industry. How will it affect sales? What will the customer expect now? How fast will it change our industry? These were all burning questions that retailers wanted answering.
So where are we now? The world of commerce is changing: it’s connected and it is real today. I hope retailers will agree with me when I say that the internet has opened up a wealth of opportunities for our industry.
The speed and accessibility of the web has meant a more streamlined, integrated retail journey. Innovations such as high speed broadband, wi-fi, the advent of mobile and 4G have entirely transformed the way we shop, and the way we respond to customer demand, which is all thanks to the internet revolution.
Because of this, customers have become, quite frankly, more demanding. They expect more – the internet has firmly placed control in their hands.
I joined eBay in 2012 as VP of the UK business. I previously worked on the merchant side of retail – most recently as director of digital and cross-channel at Sainsbury’s. Even in this space of time, the world of retail underwent a huge period of change.
Throughout this change though, and throughout my career, one thing has remained constant: the need to put our customer at the heart of the experience.
Our research shows 31% of shoppers visit the store prior to making a purchase online - known as showrooming. However, 34% will research online and then complete the purchase in store - reverse showrooming
Whereas prior to the internet, customer engagement was focused in-store, it’s now about engaging customers across all channels and creating a seamless shopping experience that responds to how they want to shop – anytime, anywhere and on any device.
Customers are in the driving seat and pushing retailers for ever higher standards of service and greater convenience. Customers fully expect your store and online channels to be joined up and can have little patience if they aren’t. For example, they want to collect in store or return via the store, even if they bought online.
We recently commissioned a major study developed with Deloitte exploring the relationship between online and offline retailing. The study showed that 31% of shoppers visit the store prior to making a purchase online, a behaviour sometimes referred to as "showrooming".
However, a similar number of people (34%) will research online and then complete the purchase in store, so-called "reverse showrooming".
Here is the evidence that shows the impact that online capabilities are bringing to the retail landscape but also how, for many retailers, it’s complementing, not competing with, the in-store experience.
A part of my job is focusing on the strategy and growth of eBay’s retail brand business – ensuring that the eBay experience continues to evolve and meet the demands of the modern shopper. A big part of that is advocating omnichannel retailing to retailers looking to embrace the opportunities that are open to them. Over 100 well-known brands and retailers in the UK are already using eBay as part of their omnichannel strategy, including Argos, BMW, Boots and House of Fraser.
The future is seamless
So what does the future hold? I think this integration of channels and true 360-degree approach to retailing is the biggest challenge to retailers, but it also offers the biggest opportunity.
There are numerous examples of customers being delighted through individual channels. What is more rare, are examples of truly seamless shopping experiences that deliver a 360-degree omnichannel retail approach. Successful retailers are more likely to have stores, ecommerce, mobile, and partnership sales platforms, not one or the other.
For me, this is where the future of retail is headed – towards greater integration and realisation of a truly omnichannel strategy.
Marketing directors need to focus their efforts on creating a seamless experience that engages and inspires shoppers as they hop from channel to channel
Part of this challenge is about combining the best of online and offline shopping to create an experience that’s both functional and fun.
That’s what our newly launched feature eBay Collections is all about: the fun of browsing and discovery, that’s shoppable. EBay Collections enables people to curate and group items on eBay, to create visual stories, in a way that’s inspiring, personalised and engaging.
Marketing directors need to focus their efforts on creating a seamless experience that engages and inspires shoppers as they hop from channel to channel, deciding when and where they want their purchases through features like order ahead, in-store pick-up and delivery.
No matter how the technology develops and how quickly the adoption of that technology accelerates, responding to what the customer wants and how they want it will always remain the focus for successful brands.
It’s the ability to be agile and flexible enough to anticipate and adapt to their needs that will drive success.