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SURVEY: Store will remain customer hub

By Retail Technology | Friday May 24 2013

Pan-European retailer survey finds bricks and mortar will retain its strategic importance as the central touchpoint for engaging with ‘connected customers’

A new survey has just revealed the results of a major new survey that reaffirms the changing but enduring importance of the retail store.

It has found that, despite the rise of online and mobile commerce across Europe, the store will continue to be the hub for retailer engagement with ‘connected’ customers.

According to a new survey of European retail management commissioned by Fujitsu and conducted by independent researcher Novametrie, ongoing competitive pressure is forcing retailers to combine efficient processes with the delivery of a valued customer experience – whether instore, online, or via smartphone.

Examining store-specific challenges

The 2013 pan-European retail survey was designed to explore the future of the store in such a multichannel environment, including store-specific challenges, such as driving sales and managing people, the importance of a unified view of customers across all channels, a tend what technology innovations will be needed to facilitate multichannel services capable of delivering valued customer experiences at a competitive investment level.

The findings were based on independent research carried out via 20 qualitative interviews with senior managers in retail businesses across the continent, including France, Germany, Italy and the UK during November and December last year. These were followed by 161 quantitative interviews during January and February 2013.

Among the findings, nearly two thirds (65%) of retail managers who took part in the study believed that the importance of stores has increased significantly within Europe. This was particularly the case in countries such as Italy (74%) and France (68%), where the research said High Street culture is as strong as ever.

Bricks preferred to clicks

Even though overall, online shopping is considered the most attractive distribution model from the perspective of retail customers today (72%), there were wide national differences which suggest that ‘bricks’ have not been entirely replaced by ‘clicks’. For example, German retailers currently find online shopping most attractive to their customers (81%), while Italian respondents in particular said ‘hypermarket and supermarket’ models remain the most attractive (78%), closely followed by ‘city-centre urban shopping’ (71%). The research also found there was a greater balance across all models in the UK.

So, despite the ongoing rise of e-tailers, the Fujitsu study found that most traditional retailers were convinced that brick-and-mortar stores have a place in the future of retail. Although there were widely varying views on what the store of the future will look like. 

Varying future store visions

Stores seem likely to remain the place where retailers can realise the ‘physical’ brand experience for the shopper in a way that complements and is consistent with the ‘online’ and ‘mobile’ brand experience. Overall, the store was still the fundamental shopping channel for retailers and their customers across Europe. However, its role and operating model are changing rapidly to meet the needs of the multichannel shopper.

The research claimed that service is becoming a key ‘value-add’ for the store – including online and instore hybrid services such as click and collect. Overall, 86% of respondents defined the most important role of stores as a place for service – this was particularly true in France where the figure jumps to 94%.

UK leads the way instore

However, national differences saw UK retailers considering a store’s role as a shopping destination as being most important (91%), while for the Italians exposure to the brand was key (88%), and Germans had a more balanced view of the range of roles a store plays.

The Fujitsu report said these results demonstrated the importance that instore experience plays in product discovery and sales associate interaction, while providing retailers with the opportunity to provide a differentiating ‘wrapper’ around their offerings to convert customers to buy, rather than losing out to pricing based competitors alone. However, when it came to rating the importance of distribution models for the future of their businesses, on a scale of attractiveness from 1 to 10, online shopping still lead overall, scoring nearly 8 out of 10.

Richard Clarke, global vice president of retail at Fujitsu, commented: “It is clear the store remains the shopping ‘hub’ for the majority of consumers across Europe. But the store operating model is changing rapidly to meet the needs of the multichannel shopper. Service – in terms of both experience via sales, associate interaction and process efficiency via models like click and collect – is becoming the competitive value-add for the store.”

Clarke added that Fujitsu is helping retailers to achieve this goal by simplifying their technology deployment while increasing agility and customer intimacy.

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