No matter your interest or involvement in the retail sector, 2014 was the year when we all hit peak "omnichannel."
It was also the year that the team here at BookingBug kicked off one of our most interesting and far-reaching retail projects to date – with omnichannel heavyweight John Lewis.
As one of the UK’s largest and most respected department stores, John Lewis operates 43 shops and stocks more than 350,000 separate lines across fashion, home, and technology. They have been innovating and investing significantly in their omnichannel strategy over the last few years, winning accolades and enviable levels of customer loyalty along the way.
Having built an omnichannel strategy that helps customers to browse, compare, and purchase goods seamlessly online and offline, it became clear that the next battleground was going to be bringing the in-person services it offers into that omnichannel offering.
John Lewis offers a variety of in-store and at home services such as Nursery, Gift Lists, Beauty, Personal Styling and Home Design. However customer visibility of these services – and crucially booking for them – varied hugely between each department and each shop, and was a largely disjointed, informal mix of telephone or in-store appointment scheduling.
So, the big question for John Lewis was: How do you bring the finding, booking, and management of face-to-face retail services into an omnichannel strategy?
John Lewis is widely known across the tech sector for having some of the most stringent procurement processes out there. A potentially daunting prospect – especially given we were up against nearly a dozen other technology platforms and SIs.
However given our very specialist focus in this field, a ton of similar projects under our belts, a confidence in our technology, and John Lewis’s sister brand Waitrose already a happy client, we knew we could deliver a technically better solution, faster than anyone else out there.
After a rigorous selection process, BookingBug was indeed selected as John Lewis’s appointment technology partner.
The team here at BookingBug worked with the John Lewis project team to make 12 very diverse John Lewis services available to book online for customers using any online device (from desktop to mobile), as well as ensuring the interfaces used by Partners in both shops and call centers were fully integrated.
Our team worked closely with John Lewis to spec and execute the project. A phased pilot was rolled out towards the end of last year, and following the incredible results achieved in that pilot phase, the appointment platform is now live and taking bookings across John Lewis’s entire estate of shops.
Shortly after launch it was already running at 30% – 50% ahead of its projected targets in terms of traffic and bookings generated. This huge swell of customer demand has emerged organically, even before John Lewis has launched any associated marketing campaigns – customers are simply discovering the option is now available and making bookings.
Why in-store services are important
Brick-and-mortar stores can no longer compete on product offering and price alone – they must offer something above and beyond what can be acquired online: experiences, education, services and expertise.
For John Lewis, each of its services generally falls into one of three key strategic areas:
High-value consultative appointments (such as kitchen design)
One to one direct revenue-generating appointments (such as beauty styling)
Footfall driving experiences (such as fingerprint jewelry)
We also see this trend towards personalized services and experiences taking hold in many other corners of the retail world.
Take Pets At Home’s in-store pet nutrition consultations, Mothercare’s expectant parent events or Jessops’ photography academy to list just a few.
Each of these very diverse brands that traditionally simply sold goods to customers are now finding new ways to compete and new ways to engage. Those that already have established in-store services are bringing them seamlessly into their wider omnichannel strategies.
The benefits to the retailer are clear:
New ways to build meaningful relationships with engaged customers
New ways to learn about the customer
New revenue streams.
For customers? The net effect is vastly improved customer experiences – both online and offline.
Each of these brands has realized that if retailers can give customers a compelling reason to come into the store and spend time there once, they’ve won half the battle. However, if they have a reason to come back again and again, they're on their way to winning the war.
This project is hugely significant; for John Lewis, for us, and for the retail sector in general. It puts John Lewis’s service offering on par with its product offering in a way that retail simply hasn’t seen before.
It’s a sign of the times – a line in the sand that marks a new era for retail.