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July 3, 2017

Clothing and footwear retailers must bring the benefits of online shopping to stores

Clothing & footwear sales through stores will grow by a total of just 3% over the next five years, as sales migrate online where already £1 in every £4 is being spent.

By Gary Peters

Clothing & footwear sales through stores will grow by a total of just 3% over the next five years, as sales migrate online where already £1 in every £4 is being spent. For many retailers, the interaction of online and physical shopping begins and ends with click & collect, but there are more ways of benefiting from the integration of channels, and retailers need to do much more to ensure that their stores are utilising the advantages online can bring.

Why not just close stores?

As more clothing & footwear shoppers choose to shop online, retailers such as Marks & Spencer and New Look have decided to close stores. Others including John Lewis and Tesco have decided to invest in their existing store networks rather than expand their portfolios much further.

GlobalData’s True Value of Stores research revealed that 85.5% of all clothing & footwear sales ‘touched’ physical stores in 2016 – either through instore transactions, via click & collect sales, or consumers using stores to browse prior to purchasing online. Stores offer benefits ranging from staff expertise, ability to try on items before purchase and arguably easier and faster returns. Stores will continue to play a role in clothing & footwear retail as being able to browse items in a store environment remains popular, so struggling retailers should consider the benefits of investing in underperforming stores rather than closing them – particularly those where leases are expensive to exit early from.

How can retailers bring the benefits of online shopping to physical stores?

Saving shoppers time

In GlobalData’s e-retail survey of 10,000 shoppers, 61% shoppers cited convenience as the prime reason for shopping online. Retailers must help customers save time in order to increase sales. Clothing & footwear players must reduce instore queue times by utilising the latest technology. With the constraint of rising staff costs, investing in unmanned self-checkouts could offer a solution to speed up the instore shopper journey. Apparel retailers Zara, Rebecca Minkoff and GU have already introduced self-checkouts abroad. Japanese fast fashion player GU is using a system in its Tokyo store in which shoppers insert their items into a basket under the scanner, and the system accurately counts the number of items and calculates the price owed using electromagnetic fields and RFID tags on the products.

Make it easier to find items

M&S has recently been testing how the location of products in stores impacts sales, but whether retailers display products by category, brand or together to inspire shoppers with outfit suggestions, the objective should be that shoppers can find items quickly and easily. Retailers should use smartphone apps to inform shoppers if the product they want is in stock in the store, and if so – where it is located, speeding up the shopper journey and answering consumer need for convenience.

Improve customer service

Though online pureplays such as Very.co.uk have invested in AI customer service chatbots to help shoppers online, stores are able to offer a key point of difference versus online shopping: face-to-face assistance. However, this human element should be optimised so that customer service is helpful and informative, as GlobalData’s 2017 e-retail research showed that 11.9% of shoppers bought online because they were given more product information.

John Lewis is improving customer service instore by investing £4m into providing 8,000 staff with iPhones with the Partner app across 20 stores initially. The purpose of this is to arm assistants with detailed product information, the ability check stock levels and order items, driving instore visitor-purchaser conversion. Online retail will only become more of a threat to offline players in the next five years, so it is vital bricks & mortar retailers futureproof their businesses by bringing the benefits of e-commerce to stores.