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The Evolution of a Retailer to a Multi-Channel Business

People lead cross-channel lives and constantly hop from one channel to another. Multi-channel shoppers are now in the majority, and spend significantly more than single-channel shoppers. This forces the traditional retail companies to face a critical decision, to accept a new but yet unrefined business model that includes multiple channels or to retain their single channel model and risk becoming irrelevant and left behind by new multi- and omni-channel competitors.

At the 2013 Retail Systems Multi-Channel conference last week in London, the presentations and panel discussions were a step in helping retailers understand how to define their multi-channel strategy.  The conference focused on discussing what good looks like, how to build a roadmap and what challenges will be faced along the way.

The conference opened with Joanna Aston, Industry Manager in Fashion at Google, sharing how Google+ and Topshop teamed up to offer unprecedented access to Topshop’s AW13 fashion show. Using a combination of Google products and Topshop’s channels, they managed to bring the fashion show to life online. The perspective of the models, buyers, designers, makeup artists and front row celebrities there on the big day were portrayed through the use of technology: from simple microcameras to Google Hangout apps.

Every year, a number of different outfits are displayed at the fashion show, but only a subset of those make their way to the manufacturing line. During the fashion show Topshop gave their customers a chance to 'Be the Buyer' and influence the buying decision. Every clip from the runway could be added to a wish list. This was essentially the list that Topshop used to determine what their customers most wanted to see next season in the stores.

The campaign saw 300,000 new Topshop followers during the core two-week campaign period. Since the collaboration, there has been an increase in similar approaches from other designers across the industry.

One of the highlights for us was the presentation given by Sarah McVittie, founder of Dressipi. Dressipi is much more than just a stylish aggregator; by learning the customer’s 'likes and dislikes' coupled with observed customer behaviour during the general use of the Internet, Dressipi gain insight into their personal style intuition. Using this insight and basically analysing every piece of clothing from the brands they work with, Dressipi presents its customers with stylish options and a wide range of personal predictions guaranteed to suit and fit.

But how do you actually make the technology work for you?

The evolution of a retailer to a multi- or omni-channel business is based on understanding two key principles: your customers and the channels through which you can reach them. 

  1. What drives your customers to buy from one or multiple channels and which do they prefer? 
  2. How can you best use each channel? Is it better, for example, to replicate functionality across all channels or for each channel to focus only on delivering the functionality it handles best and thereby removing unnecessary confusion?

To simplify the implementation of a multi-channel strategy, it is critical that retailers adopt an appropriate mindset and an adaptive business model.  At the conference, the Co-op Food Group presented a good example of how this strategy was implemented successfully by focusing on building the right thing (for their customers) and building it right (in an adaptive manner). Working with ThoughtWorks, the Co-op moved away from six-month business cases to rapid product innovation with a focus on MVP. 

The result? Check it out for yourself. The new Delightful Deals app launched this week, and is available on iPhone and Android devices. Simply search "The Co-operative Food" on the Apple or Android App stores to download it for free. 

Learn more about Agile Project Management at ThoughtWorks and how it can help you move quickly from decision-making to action.

(Thanks to Rosie Scott, Business Analyst, and Amanda Denham, UK New Market Relations Manager, for their contributions to this article.)