Multi-channel retailing is something of a buzzword, but isn’t exactly an overnight sensation. Since the late nineties we’ve seen an ongoing shift from pure bricks and mortar retailing to our present exciting world with consumers shopping around the clock in store and online. The IGD estimates online UK grocery retail sales nearing £5bn in 2010, up 21% on 2009, accounting for 3.2% of total grocery retail business.

The pace is speeding, driven by a growing number of consumers of all ages who are increasing confident about shopping on the Internet and have access through an array of different technologies, including the latest generation mobiles, to a growing choice of ways to choose and pay for goods remotely.

In the grocery sector the major multiples have been leading the way and running on-line home delivery services now for over a decade. With the leading players now operating superstores, convenience format outlets and forecourt shops as well as on-line, brand-loyal consumers have the facility to stay faithful to the same retailer in every channel and add to the points on their loyalty card.

So multi-channel retailing isn’t an aspiration, it’s a reality. However while the focus has been on developing customer-facing services, what separates the men from the boys is the attention the retailers pay to the back-end processes, those vital bits the shopper doesn’t see but soon become all too aware of when things go wrong.

Cutting corners on fulfillment leads to shortfalls in service, failed shopper expectations on a par with out of stocks in store, and ultimately damage to reputations. At the same time there is still a major opportunity for forward-thinking retailers to differentiate themselves by delivering excellence all the way through.

At the end of the last century Michael de Kare-Silver, a former retailer, published a book called e-shock 2000, which prophesied the cultural shift the web has forced through in retailing and commerce generally. He has now brought his vision up to date with his new volume, ‘e-shock 2020’, which talks about our present computer world of point and click morphing into one of Think, Talk and Move, where thought, voice and simple remote gestures control 3D holographic displays of data, content and video. So far, it’s still sci-fi. With many retail managers inevitably still thinking of the different parts of their business in silos, Michael talks of companies reinventing themselves as true multi-channel enterprises, seamlessly interacting across the channels with customers and with integrated operating systems and processes to match. Now there’s something retailers can work towards now.

The Grocery Trader

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