For retailers looking to succeed in today's challenging economy, a joined-up strategy between their online and store presence is the key to success, according to speakers at this year's World Retail Congress. Consumers not only use smartphones and the internet to shop but to carry out research too, while retailers can boost their instore offers by incorporating key elements from the online experience. Petah Marian reports.

Much attention has been placed on the importance of retailers having an online presence where they can interact with consumers - be it computers, mobile phones or even Facebook. 

But it is important that these advances do not come at the expense of their bricks and mortar stores. As retailers embrace online, they need to look at it as an integrated experience rather than seeng their stores, e-commerce engines, and social media elements as separate entities. 

Online retail might be seeing massive growth, but bricks-and-mortar stores are here to stay is the message at this year's World Retail Congress. Speaking yesterday about research carried out by IT firm Oracle, SVP and general manager Mike Webster said the "death of the store has been widely over-exaggerated and premature".

For retailers looking to succeed in this challenging economy, a joined-up strategy between their online and store presence is the key to success, both now and into the future, he believes.

He said research conducted by Oracle found it was imperative that retailers create a seamless experience across mobile, web and the store, as this is what younger customers will expect.

Being able to buy across multiple platforms is only half of the puzzle, adds Aurora Fashions CEO Mike Shearwood.

He told just-style today (28 September) that the company, which owns the Oasis, Warehouse, Coast and Karen Millen brands, is looking to make it as easy as possible to shop online and being able to return products in-store is a big part of this.

"A lot of retailers won't let customers return goods online to their stores. We actually want to make it easier for her to return goods, so that she'll buy more".

Online research
Consumer behaviour is also changing, with many researching goods online before going  into the store and vice versa.

Research released by commercial real estate firm CBRE has found that 90% of respondents would visit a physical store at least occasionally to "check out" the product before buying online; and some two-thirds of European consumers research product information and prices before buying in-store.

Research undertaken this way by shoppers was also noted by Mango's vice president of business development, Jose Gomez.

"Today 80% of customers come into the store already knowing what they want, they've done their research and they know the price they want to pay. So that happens before they reach the store, or before we've had a chance to communicate with them through regular channels," he said.

Mango is focused on finding different ways to interact with shoppers before they get into the store, through social media platforms like Facebook.

While it is currently working on influencing customers before they make a purchase decision, Gomez was quick to add that "I don't think bricks-and-mortar stores are going anywhere. What I do think is that e-commerce and online will gain a lot of power, a good and sound multi-channel strategy is the one for the future".

Social media platforms
Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms play a leading role in many retailers' marketing mixes - but CBRE's research found that social media might not influence consumers as much as retailers may think.

Executive director Peter Gold explained that 71% of respondents in its survey said they were not influenced by social media when making shopping decisions.

Speaking to just-style, he suggested that retailers' online spend might be more effectively invested in other elements of the online experience that currently put consumers off buying this way - including delivery charges, appealing to men and educating consumers about the security of their credit card details.

A two-way street
Multichannel retail should also be a two-way street, with opportunites for retailers to take the best elements of their online offer and bring them in-store.

HP's director of client solutions and workstations for EMEA, Kobi Elbaz, highlighted how easy it is to find whether your size shoe is in stock online, yet getting this information in-store can take much longer if the store staff have to go into their warehouse to check.

He also suggested that retailers must look to create personalised in-store experiences that are more aligned to their online and mobile offerings. For example, using technologies like digital displays that are able to recognise the consumer and target promotions and offers to them.

As retailers grapple with the rapidly evolving expectations consumers have of them, the one thing they all seem to agree on is that the pace of change is only set to accelerate.

"The younger generation, certainly my children, have grown up in a world of pure connectivity, they never read a manual, they never have to learn anything, its just intuitive. So the pace of change will only accelerate," emphasised Shearwood.