Last week, poor January retail figures were released. Although they contained an upswing in online sales, bricks and mortar stores are still struggling. 

This week, Homebase’s new owner reported a loss of £28million in the last half of 2016 as it invests in rebranding and refocussing the chain. Thirteen David Lawrence and Marcs store closures were also announced as the administrator struggled to make the labels attractive to buyers.

Even the news that Waitrose topped the ‘Which?’ survey for the UK’s best supermarket for the third year in a row came at the same time that the chain announced it is to close six stores. Meanwhile, Laura Ashley is being groomed for sale by owner L’Oréal as like-for-like sales for the second half of 2016 fell by 3.5%.

Time for Omni-channel?

All that bad news made The Retail Bulletin’s latest ‘Omni-channel Summit’ on 8th February in London all the more appropriate. The main learning point was that retailers will have to strike a balance between online and in-store shopping, putting together a customer service and delivery infrastructure that can cope with sales through any channel. In particular, mobile shopping on phones and tablets, rather than people sitting down at a computer, is rising fast.

Mobile taking off

One of the speakers at Omni-channel, Google’s industry manager for retail, Ruth Ballett told delegates that more intelligent analytics will drive mobile shopping in the future.

Although the iPhone celebrates it’s tenth anniversary this year, searches on mobile devices in the UK only overtook those on laptops and PCs back in October. Ballett informed delegates that there was an increase of 34% in mobile searches in December 2016 compared with last year so the increase is sharp, and still rising.

Ballett believes that improved analytics will allow retailers to have more relevant conversations and that those, intriguingly, will lead to more profitable and faster in-store sales. She quoted McKinsey figures which show that 76% of in-store luxury goods sales have a digital influence.

The Waitrose dilemma

So there is a handshake going on between online and in-store and it’s up to retailers to work out how they can take advantage.

In Waitrose’s case, although some of the closures are down to over-expansion, part of the story is driven by the chain’s online success leading to lower footfall in certain stores.

Balancing in-store and online is not easy. The challenge for successful retailers now and into the future will be to understand customer behaviour across all shopping channels and develop platforms that can respond well to that behaviour.

iPhone and Macbook by barnimages.com licensed under Creative commons 4