European retailers say stores are growing in strategic significance

21st Sep 2015

73% of leading European retailers expect their bricks-and-mortar stores to become more strategically important to them in the coming five years, according to a new study from Pierre Audoin Consultants (PAC).

This is despite declining footfall numbers on high streets across Europe, and 69% of retailers also stating that expanding their digital presence is their” top short-term priority”.

The report, ‘Omnichannel Retail in Europe’, takes into account the opinions of 200 CxOs in large-scale retail companies based in France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, the Nordic region, Spain and the UK.

It finds a clear emerging trend relating to the importance retailers placed on improving their omnichannel offerings, set against the increasing demand their customers have for it.

Aside from the expected increase in importance of high street stores, a key finding from the study is that 85% of European retailers feel their omnichannel retail strategy is in place because “customers are demanding it”.

However, 89% also feel that their omnichannel initiatives were being driven by a need to improve the customer experience, and this means getting to grips with the strategic requirements of delivering a better “seamless” experience across both on and offline channels.

Evidence of this particular trend lies in the number of additions to the high street announced in recent months, as omnichannel experiments hot up among brands not traditionally renowned for having a physical store presence.

Last week it was revealed that the iconic British technology company, Dyson was set to open its first high street ‘Apple-style’ store, joining other similar announcements from traditionally digital-only companies including Amazon and Google.

Amazon’s launch of its first store in February is of particular interest, as its chief aim has been to improve its click and collect offering and speed up the time it takes from a customer purchasing a product online to being able to collect or receive it in person.

“Perhaps the biggest battle facing European retailers is to meet the increasingly high level of expectation of their customers, the report states.

“The likes of Amazon and Google are raising the bar for product delivery from next-day to same-day, while forward-thinking brands such as John Lewis have invested heavily to provide a seamless experience across their different points of engagement, to ensure that the customer receives the same level of service, promotions and pricing.”

Indeed, 60% of retailers in the Netherlands and the UK are already using their physical stores as a collection point for online orders, showing the importance being placed on having an omnichannel strategy in these countries, in particular. 

It also found that, across all retailers surveyed, it is business leaders, rather than IT departments that are generally leading omnichannel. More than 80% said the development of a long-term strategy was either a major or clear challenge, while 75% named transforming internal organisational structures as a pressing concern. For most retailers, business challenges rather than I.T. issues create the biggest challenges to success.

“The findings of the study show that European retailers are at very different stages of their journey towards omnichannel,” says Nick Mayes, Principal Analyst at PAC.

“But it is very encouraging to find that so many see it as a business as much as an IT challenge, and that strategy is being led in many cases from the boardroom.”

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