Just as retailers really start to understand what multichannel means to their business and how to capitalise on that, it gets more complicated

Just as retailers really start to understand what multichannel means to their business and how to capitalise on that, it gets more complicated. As technology evolves, it changes how people shop. A few years ago, the focus was on making store, online and catalogue shopping work together. Now retailers have factors such as m-commerce, social commerce and in-store kiosks to contend with.

Our feature on the challenges of multichannel shows how technology puts a massive strain on retailers’ systems. Many retailers use multiple systems to get a product to a store, but if customers are buying across multiple channels, product information very quickly becomes outdated. The ability to provide a seamless customer experience can prove elusive.

The challenges of multichannel can be easier for smaller, emerging retailers to tackle than the larger, more established players. When the latter moved into multichannel about 10 years ago, retailers grew their online operations separately for fear of interfering with existing supply chain systems. But such a strategy has quickly emerged as short-sighted. Building a strong multichannel business hinges on the ability to think ahead.

Retailers will also need to pay close attention to the behaviour of the multichannel shopper. John Lewis has observed that the annual spend of a multichannel customer is more than three times that of a single store or an internet-only customer. In the fast-moving online world, it would be easy to overlook humble bricks and mortar. But stores remain central to multichannel shopping and these need to evolve, too.

Improving the retail multichannel offer is difficult and time-consuming. But the sooner retailers find a solution that works for their shoppers, the sooner they will reap the financial rewards.

Charlotte Hardie, Supplement Editor