Tech Tuesday: Augmented Reality bites! The Move To Omni-Channel Retail

4 October 2016 | Stephen Paterson | About a 3 minute read
Tags: artificial intelligence, augmented reality, Content Management, CRM, Digital Marketing, Digital Strategy, eCommerce, iBeacon, Social Media, virtual reality

I always read with interest (and often contribute to) the grand predictions of what will be big in digital within the next 12 to 18 months, particularly as it relates to 2017 retailing in the UK. Many recent reports have described the impact that Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) will have in the UK market and how gamification can be interwoven into digital strategy to really drive customer engagement and accelerate retail sales. Further, Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning continues to be no more than an edge discussion that threatens to replace or at the very least complement in-store labour models.

Increasingly, and after a slow start, the much heralded iBeacon technology is beginning to have a positive impact for retailers and customers in both the UK and elsewhere. London Regent Street stores and large shopping centre locations throughout the UK have all benefited from pushing personalised marketing content to customers, enabling customer profiling, targeted advertising and presentation of exclusive offers delivered to a customer’s mobile device.

However, despite such significant digital technology opportunities available to retailers, a number of larger organisations in particular and within the UK retail market continues to grapple with:

  • How to move from a set of (largely) independent sales channel to a multi-channel retailer?
  • How and when to move from being a multi-channel retailer to become a truly omni-channel retailer?
  • What role will technology and eCommerce platforms play?

Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, a number of the larger high street retailers continue to operate their .com site as an independent channel, subservient to the more traditional stores model, creating an underwhelming customer experience, where shopping across channels can often feel like dealing with separate retailers. Internally, retail colleagues are often incentivised along single channel lines, with sub-optimal and outdated processes initially intended to purely serve a ‘stores only’ model.

Reassuringly though, those retail organisations that have adopted a multi-channel strategy and have focused on creating a more seamless customer experience for both online and in-store and looking to make the leap to become an omni-channel retailer. They understand the need to create a single view of their customer regardless of channel, provide an in-store digital experience customers expect, adopt a mobile first strategy, create easy delivery (and pick up) and return processes tailored around the customer, make payment easy, make the shopping experience personal and customised. Such retailers also invite and share customer generated content as a core part of their strategy to drive conversion online, footfall to stores and direct engagement with their brand.

We hear often the need for channel consistency, providing endless aisle capability and a single view of inventory as an example  – putting the customer in change of the shopping experience rather than the other way round. All great intent, however there is work to be done.

Although there are some leading and exemplar omni-channel retailers, particularly outside of the UK, what is stopping the many adopting such a strategy and delivering the seamless shopping experience that customer crave and still so few provide? A number of factors play a part – competition, organisational culture and company heritage, financial investment capacity, digital accountability at board level, digital skills and capability are all important considerations. There is a view however that technology perhaps has the largest impact with a baffling number of options available to retailers.

It could be argued that UK retailers need to see eCommerce platforms as a building block within a wider omni-channel digital landscape integrating a set of core micro-services, such as: CRM, digital marketing, content management, product information, social media, ratings & reviews, data analytics, enterprise search, call centre operations, order management, digital asset management, kiosk and in-store digital displays, fulfilment and delivery and returns.

Not an exhaustive list of services, however, designed and built well, such a digital technology strategy should provide a consistent omni-channel experience to customers and is more in line with a shopping experience we now expect.  Once established – and my hope for 2017, the vast majority of UK retailers can then turn their attention to the more grand projections that I am sure will eventually become (an augmented!) reality.

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