Mastering multi-channel

Scott Thompson reviews the 2009 Retail Systems Multi-Channel Summit, which took place at The IoD Hub, London, on Thursday, 17 September.

With the credit crunch continuing to bite, acquiring and keeping customers in 2009 has been tough, both online and on the High Street. Mastery of multi-channel has, therefore, become many retailers\\' best defence against an uncertain future and a powerful weapon for expanding their trading horizons. During the last decade there have been great strides forward in website and supply chain solutions, and in the technologies that run in-store kiosks, contact centres and mobile commerce. Yet very few retailers seem close to creating the integrated infrastructure that would tie all these things together in the ideal multi-channel model. The Retail Systems Multi-Channel Retail Summit brought retailers, consultants, analysts and technology vendors together to address this state of affairs.

Morning session

The phrase \\'multi-channel integration\\' is frequently bandied around, and yet it could be argued that many retailers have not even begun to understand what\\'s required in order to implement an integrated multi-channel organisation. Conference chairman, Paul Mason, CEO at Paul Mason Consulting (PMC), kicked things off by stating that, "meeting the challenge of multi-channel is the biggest opportunity and (if we get it wrong) the biggest threat that the retail sector faces today."

"Driving improvements in their multi-channel capabilities is at the top of my clients\\' priorities," he added. Mason then handed over to the first speaker of the day, James Roper, chief executive at IMRG, the industry association for e-retailing, who gave a presentation entitled: Online: the new normal shopscape - the latest data, trends, observations and insights of the evolving e-retail world.
Roper provided an overview of UK e-retail in 2009 - £50 billion in online sales, up 15 per cent on 2008; 30 million e-shoppers (45 per cent of the UK adult population); average spend per head/year: £1,667; 90 million parcels shipped; 59 per cent of online shoppers use the internet as a research tool before buying in-store. But these stats should not mask the fact that there is still much work to be done. "In my view, the best online retailers in the world are coming out of the UK," he observed, before adding: "But the industry as a whole is not working particularly well. In the future, people will look back and marvel at how crude and clunky online retail was. There\\'s more bad than good and yet people are still flocking to it, which speaks volumes."

Next up, the first retailer of the day (Anthony Leach, senior operations manager at Debenhams Direct) covered the hot topic of online fraud. UK cybercrime has rebounded to worrying levels, not seen since 2006, as a result of the recession and consumer complacency, according to Garlik\\'s recently issued UK Cybercrime report. One of the most significant changes has been a 207 per cent increase in account takeover fraud indicating that, with the current economic climate sparking limited available credit, criminals have shifted their efforts from opening new accounts with stolen identities to accessing existing ones.

Leach told the audience how Debenhams had chosen to implement anti-fraud solutions from 192business to reduce costly chargebacks and increase their customer acquisition. In order to combat the continuing fraud challenges all online retailers face, the retailer needed to further enhance its fraud screening
and customer verification processes. 192business offered a global solution which allows it to carry out quick, simple and efficient methods of robust identity verification. "The ability to efficiently filter out fraudulent orders, thereby minimising chargebacks, whilst maximising customer revenue is crucial for our business as we seek to continue our growth," he said.

Meanwhile, Will Jones, IT director at The Book Depository, gave insight into the
e-tailer\\'s success and the challenges facing online retailers. The company is currently the ninth biggest bookseller in the UK and has designs on rising a few places through the ranks over the next couple of years. It is also fifth in the Sunday Times Fast Track league table of the UK\\'s fastest growing companies. Jones attributed this success to the simplicity of the company\\'s offering, offshoots such as a self-publishing venture and initiatives like a limited run of bookmarks designed by The Mighty Boosh, sent out free of charge to customers. "We\\'re not just about flogging books as cheaply as possible." Rather impressively, it also offers free delivery to 90 countries ("we use Royal Mail - one mode of delivery. No first class etc.")

Jones is responsible for all aspects of the development and delivery of the retailer\\'s e-commerce and web solutions. Before joining The Book Depository, he had roles as IT director of social commerce start-up BookRabbit, e-commerce IT solutions manager at Waterstone\\'s and retail consultant at Conchango. Prior to this, he was part of the team that launched and grew John Lewis Direct. In terms of challenges facing online retailers, the dreaded \\'r\\' word reared its ugly head for the first (but not last) time of the day. "There\\'s an argument that book selling is counter-recessionary, but that doesn\\'t alter the fact that it\\'s all about being ahead of the curveâ€

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