'In Conversation with Huw Thomas'

Our ‘In conversation with Huw Thomas’ series is written by blogger Bethan Williams, alongside PMC. Based on conversations with our Managing Director, Huw Thomas. Bethan is an anthropology graduate turned dance teacher turned blogger and writer. This series takes snippets of the conversations between Huw and Bethan, where their interests and areas of knowledge overlap, and turn them into pieces which are relevant to retail and business in general.

Call me wild, but I’ve written you three stories about multi-channel shopping!

1. A Luxury Clothing Brand

You walk into a designer clothing store. A customer service rep approaches you. “Good morning Miss. Williams, it’s been a while since you shopped with us, how lovely to see you again. How was the wedding you bought that beautiful hat for?” As another customer enters behind you, another iPad wielding store worker approaches to tell them they’ve got a whole new range of their favourite collection in and would they like some pieces sending up in their size to try? “We know you prefer the blue to the black, of course!” The store card you carry in your purse is scanned as you walk through the doors and allows the staff a brief look at your purchase history and preferences as they approach.

You’re guided around the store. Each item pointed out to you is carefully chosen to match your past buys. You had a statement coat in teal last season. People who bought that same coat also purchased these shoes. You like the shoes. As you browse, you select items to try on and they are waiting for you in the fitting rooms. One touch of a screen and the items are paid for. All your bank details have been saved. You leave the store. You have a new pair of shoes to perfectly complement that coat. The store has new information to include in their database. The next time you visit they might just be able to guide you toward something even more perfect.

2. A High Street Charity Shop

  • You are the owner of an independent charity shop on a busy high street. Your customer base varies wildly and includes:
  • Trendy young students;
  • Low income families with small children;
  • Older people who remember a time when ‘second-hand’ wasn’t a bad thing;
  • Hipsters hoping for a golden vintage find; and
  • A middle aged man desperate for a suit for his first job interview in twenty years.

How do you curate an environment which serves such diverse needs? Stock is no issue. Piles of black bags adorn the street each time you arrive at work.

You open the front door for the day and log into your stock tracking app. Yesterday, as is typical of a weekday in March, you sold mostly women’s clothes. More specifically, women’s clothes, size 12-16, in shades of grey, blue and red. Among sales in the men’s sections, shirts are ever popular, checked shirts to be precise. Size medium sells twice as well as small and you’ve recently logged a huge increase in sales of corduroy trousers. They must be popular among the hipsters? As is the nature of your industry, customers don’t retain loyalty to you because they can tell their friends where they shop. They remain loyal because you have what they want to buy at a bargain price.

You sell eight pairs of cords and a women’s suit and shut the shop for the day.

3. An Online Book Seller

You sit down at the computer and log into your account with a big online retailer. The series of books you were looking at but couldn’t afford last week are saved to your basket. However, in a pop-up advert down the side of the screen the same books – perhaps a different edition – are being offered at half the price. You’ve shopped with the first seller a few times. Delivery speed and product quality has always been good. You know you can’t rely on this with every online retailer.

In order to make a choice, you want to know the difference between the products. You want to know whether to trust the second seller. What’s their track record? You want to be reassured that the product will arrive safely and in good condition.

The ‘live chat’ box pops up. A real person, with access to huge amounts of data on the product you want and the people you may choose to buy it from, to answer your concerns. They help you differentiate between the overwhelming number of options and reassure you that your purchase is in good hands.

You close the help box and confidently order the cheaper collection!

Whatever the context, the positive aspects of online and in-store shopping can be combined to create an experience which may resemble any one of the examples above. These are just my theories, of course, but the movement of personalised shopping into bricks and mortar stores and live, informative human interaction into the digital sphere may well begin to look something like this. The final piece in my trio of blogs on multi-channel shopping is going to explore what these changes might mean for our shopping experiences. What consumerism means in this new environment.

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