Ideas to clarify your priorities when reviewing your omnichannel offer to build a more resilient future for your retail brand.

While some in-person retail interactions have dramatically changed or been supplanted by digital engagement, the 'death of the high street' is not as simple as headlines may suggest.

For retailers, responding to longer-term customer behaviours and preferences means evaluating your current omnichannel shopping experiences. These are where consumers interact or purchase across multiple channels, encompassing digital channels and bricks and mortar.

Getting your omnichannel right means delivering smooth, consistent and innovative encounters with customers, meeting and exceeding their expectations and inspiring their enduring loyalty. This emerged as a key theme for retailers in recent WTW research into the future resilience of the retail sector.

The below five questions are based on this, WTW's Retail Futures Report produced in partnership with researchers from Mack Institute's Collaborative Innovation Program at the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania and forward thinking inc. These questions aim to help clarify your priorities when reviewing your omnichannel retail offer, create more loyal customers and a more resilient future.

Q: Are you writing-off your physical stores prematurely?

A: Despite the growing digitisation of retail, we expect physical stores to continue to play a significant role in the shopping landscape. While e-commerce is experiencing rapid growth, consumers still value physical stores.

However, making physical stores deliver into the future could mean taking a creative approach. This could mean focusing on delivering immersive experiences or responding to broader trends such as remote working or shifts in other sectors. You may consider, for example, introducing alternative working hubs in your outlets, establishing banking hubs or offering multifunctional stores that provide complementary products or services.

Alternatively, it could be more appropriate to use your physical stores to support better omnichannel experiences by reconfiguring them into 'dark' outlets to support click-and-collect purchases.

Q: Can you bring the in-store experience online?

A: One approach here is virtual appointments, where sales staff use video-conferencing platforms to offer personalised attention to customers. These interactions both help customers find products to suit their specific needs and provide valuable insight on those products and user experiences are likely to lead to sales.

To bring more of the in-store experience online, you might also consider investing in capabilities for virtual try-on. This technology can call on augmented reality (AR), machine learning (ML) and computer vision techniques, allows customers to virtually try on clothes and experiment with different looks. By bridging the gap between online and physical stores, AR and ML-enabled virtual try-on addresses one of the main challenges of online fashion purchasing amongst others.

Livestreaming, meanwhile, allows your brand to share experiential content while transferring elements of the in-store, in-person experience to digital channels.

Q: Are you harnessing AI-enabled personalisation across multiple channels?

A: AI can unite experiences across channels by deliver personalised recommendations based on customers' order history, online or in-store behaviour. WTW Retail Futures report includes the example of Sephora's Colour IQ. This scans a customer's face to provide personalised make-up recommendations. Meanwhile, Olay's Skin Advisor asks customers to take a selfie before the app uses AI to evaluate their skin's age, health and make personalised product recommendations.

Enhanced personalisation across channels can support long-term relationships with key customers based on data about their preferences, also known 'clienting'. AI can support clienting by analysing online shopping behaviour and connecting these insights to in-store staff and call centres. These insights together can create more tailored experiences and recommendations in physical stores, as well as online.

Q: Are you ready to manage the risks around omnichannel delivery?

A: Advanced data analytics technologies like AI and ML can optimise processes as well as enhance personalisation.

AI and ML can optimise processes as well as enhance personalisation.

By analysing data on customer preferences, shopping behaviour and sales trends, you can optimise the product lines you offer across both online and offline channels. This may mean offering divergent ranges in different store locations based on local demand.

However, remember that gathering consumer data to optimise and personalise omnichannel experiences can introduce heightened data security and cyber risk. Reviewing your omnichannel shopping offer should go hand in hand with continued review of your cyber risk management framework.

What assets, including data, systems and devices, are most critical to your business delivery? Once you've identified the most essential elements, you can ensure your cyber security strategy is centred on the right areas in light of your omnichannel approach. You can then move onto evaluating whether its most efficient to address the priority risk areas via controls or processes, tolerate the risk, or transfer elements of it via cyber insurance placement.

Across your customers' omnichannel journeys, central to keeping their data safe will be your 'human firewall'. As you adapt your business model to more integrated and data-enabled omnichannel experiences, your people will need continually updated tools and awareness to effectively detect and report a potential cyber incident.

As your business changes due to reliance on technology, or diversifies to meet changing consumer demands, or changes in the workplace, reviewing the business risks and dependencies will lead to better resilience and allow you to produce an up to date risk register, along with optimum risk transfer, prevention and mitigation strategies.

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.