All seeing, all pervading, ever-present, the ideal retail omni-channel experience. It’s interesting to see the term ‘digital’ used so freely, yet ask many retailers for their definition of digital and you see many varied responses. Is digital this ethereal catchall, or is it in fact any communication through a virtual medium? If you agree with the later, then you can see more clearly how it’s put into practice in integrating seamlessly with the physical tactile environment.

Let’s take a look at UK retailer, Argos, as an example of a retailer who has bridged the divide between virtual and physical to theirs and the customer’s advantage. 10 years ago, I doubt many expected UK retailer Argos (infamous for its large instore catalogues and mini blue pens), to become the leader in digital innovation that it has become today.

However, in the past two years we have seen Argos open digital stores in London and recently announce plans to create digital stores inside existing branches of Sainsbury’s supermarket in a drive to reach even more customers. And it seems this new digital strategy is paying off.

According to figures released in April by Argos’ parent company, the Home Retail Group, by actively pursuing an omni-channel strategy, using mobile devices as a bridge between stores and online has helped the retailer to record £1billion in m-commerce sales, rumoured to be the first UK retailer to achieve such a goal.

Betrand Bodson, chief digital officer at the Home Retail Group, believes that the true value of mobile is as a connector between the virtual and physical world. In a recentRetail Week story, Bodson said, “At Argos, our customers like to shop cross-channel and 90 per cent of purchases touch a store, with 35 per cent using the convenience of Check and Reserve. It also works in reverse, with the new instore browsers giving a real sense of the digital experience and encouraging them to try it. The big focus for us is to create a seamless journey which works for customers, however they choose to shop.”

Interestingly with this case study, Argos reported that 90 per cent of purchases that started on a mobile device have still involved a physical store at some point, with a large portion using the retailer’s check and reserve service.

This clearly proves that while many may explore the differences between online and offline consumer behaviour and try to cater to these as separate entities, there should no longer be such a divide. Retailers should focus on a stronger overall retail offer integrating a seamless digital thread.


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