Argos managing director Sara Weller has highlighted the opportunities and challenges retailers face as they attempt to strengthen multichannel operations.

She expects continued multichannel growth at Argos but warned that all retailers would expect multichannel ventures now to “pay their way” as tough trading conditions bite.

Weller said retailers should consider three questions:

  • Do their channels compete or cooperate in order to satisfy customers?

  • Who is really in charge – the company or the customer? and

  • Do retailers allow customers to help them improve their businesses?

Weller said Argos’s channels complement each other – the adoption of the check and reserve service by shoppers means a lot of business eventually transacted in stores is done outside opening hours. And the presence of stores boosts use of multichannel options, increasing transactions by a factor of as much as nine.

To ensure all elements are connected, Weller said, retailers need to ask who gets credit for sale, whether all offers available everywhere, whether stores use the internet as a resource and whether e-commerce drives customers to the store.

She believes the customer should decide how multichannel works. In contrast to what internet development specialists might like to believe, she said shoppers want the basics right before all-singing, all-dancing add-ons.

“There’s often a real tension,” she said. “When money is tight you need to focus on what customers want even if it’s not exciting.”

She used the example of Argos’s phone reservation reminder, which means customers coming to store to collect have their reservation number easily available and are reminded if the reservation period is close to expiry.”

Weller said the questions to ask are: are you focused on what customers want? Does the back-end of the business connect to the front to ensure the whole works for customers? And do you put the shopping journey in the hands of customers and make it easy for them?

Weller said she had initially been sceptical about whether Argos could make use of the social networking trend but had changed her opinion following the success of the introduction of online customer reviews – the retailer used a bespoke system so that shoppers would also review its own brands rather than the big brand names that tend to feature if generic review systems are used.

She said: “We’ve used feedback to make products better. It’s a fantastic way of getting feedback into actionable piles.”

The Tell Argos feature has enabled the retailer to improve service. Weller said: “We’re able to have a dialogue about what we need to improve – it is given to stores for daily briefings.”

Weller concluded: “The multichannel space is one where there’s still opportunity for growth for retailers. At Argos we don’t feel we’ve exploited anything like the opportunity there is.”