UK: Multi-Channel Retailers - Ignore The Customer Experience At Your Peril!

Last Updated: 30 January 2013
Article by Paul Weald

Most Read Contributor in UK, August 2017

I had an interesting experience with one home furniture retailer in the post Christmas sales which highlights how a joined-up multi-channel capability is now essential to ensure an effective customer experience.

My quest was to replace a kitchen table and chairs. Keen to take advantage of the seasonal bargains I did my internet research to see what offers were available to fit our budget. We found one retailer that was offering 20% off in its end-of-year sale, on top of an existing 50% reduction for the range that we were interested in. That definitely ticked the 'very good VFM' box!

Off we went to our local store in Bracknell to find that the particular table we were interested in out of stock. "No problem," said the store team member, "you can find one online". Back home on the computer we tried to locate this specific product only to find a page hidden away in the retailer's site that said that the product was no longer manufactured and stocked.

Still keen to secure a bargain we then went to the same retailer's Maidenhead store. The first thing we saw was the same table available to be taken away. Interestingly this store also had a greater selection of chairs and so we decided to buy a model we hadn't seen when first doing our internet research. Once again no inventory was available to take away but this time the store team member offered to order us some. We paid our money but in conversation were told that the product could take up to 21 days and if there was no stock available centrally in that timeframe then they would refund our money. That certainly did not fill me with confidence that we would have anything to sit on in our kitchen in January!

Returning home with the table squeezed into the back of our car, I decided to do another check of the retailer's website. And a good job I did as I immediately found the specific model of chair that we wanted with an option to check inventory levels at local stores. Within 60 seconds I could see stock available at the Reading store with an option to reserve these for collection the next day.

The following day I set off to the third store in the retailer's network to pick up the chairs that we had reserved online. That afternoon my task was to assemble all the furniture, only to find that one of the chair backs was broken. A quick online product check showed that store #3 (where we had collected the chairs) had one more set left in stock, so I quickly drove to the store to effect a replacement exchange of the faulty product. At last, job done!

So what are the lessons from my multi-channel shopping experience?

Clearly the product offer was a winning one for me to have persevered with the purchasing experience, dashing around the Thames Valley in search of a bargain. But two things stand out for me that would have made the customer experience so much more straight forward. The first is the website purpose. As an information source it did its job to promote the product offer to me but the inability to order online the products that the stores were actually selling was a real let down. The second is for the store to be able to help customers overcome inventory stock outs. If the staff in either store #1 or store #2 had checked online whilst I was on premise they could have easily located the stock available for immediate delivery. That way they would have secured the sales credit for my purchase.

Given the transparent eCommerce age that we all now live in, having a joined-up multi-channel experience is key to commercial success. If you assume that 90% of customers would not have been as persistent as me in fulfilling their purchase - given such a fragmented customer experience - then clearly there is a strong business case for retailers to invest in the required online and in-store improvements to make this happen.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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