All channels should be coherent points of contact working to the same overarching agenda

Some retailers assume that for multichannel retailing to succeed, your online channel must achieve everything your stores do, only better, faster and cheaper. I disagree.

It’s easy to create a web site that performs brilliantly by taking sales from stores. Or, in other words, to create a multichannel model that pits every piece of the business in direct competition with its sister channels.

However, what matters is not what percentage of sales happen online, but what percentage of sales are initiated or reinforced by a customer’s online experience.

At Comet, we recently announced our best ever web-generated performance for the Christmas period, with sales value increasing by more than 30 per cent year on year.

Popular products were sold or secured for pick-up in stores via our click and collect service at up to two a minute at the busiest times on our web site. Astonishingly, during our peak trading week, about two thirds of online customers collected their orders from stores often as little as 30 minutes later – evidence that the two channels can work in harmony.

But there is no room for complacency. In a competitive retail climate and an uncertain economic landscape, developing a mutichannel proposition that has a positive impact is essential.

From our research, I know that customers are more satisfied if they embrace the whole experience of shopping with us, and that the happiest and most profitable customers are those that edit their choice of products online, follow up with a store visit to learn from store colleagues’ knowledge and finally allow us to deliver and install their purchase in their home at their convenience. Getting customers established with their new product as quickly and efficiently as possible offers great peace of mind for today’s busy consumer.

A retailer’s website can act as an introduction to a pool of deep knowledge and expertise, ensuring that customers have selected the best product for their needs. With the opportunity also to touch and test products in store, they often purchase added extras or decide to upscale to the next product in the range. But for those that prefer only shopping online, a live chat facility to assist in some of the more complex product categories can help.

For me, the real challenge is to create a model where everyone in the company is working to the same agenda. It makes sense to look at all channels as coherent points of contact in a much wider customer experience. So, where others talk about multichannel retailing, I prefer to talk about multipoint retailing.

When a customer gets the right advice, through whatever channel, that builds a relationship of trust. And that’s how sales, recommendations, and repeat purchases happen and bolster bottom-line performance.

That’s what makes the difference between operating a successful web site and becoming a leading multichannel retailer.

Hugh Harvey, managing director, Comet