The case for swimming against the current

There is no decision that we can make that doesn’t come with some sort of balance or sacrifice.

– Simon Sinek

I have also always loved the term, coined by Simon Reynolds, that “when they zig, we zag”.

If you read and learn about the greatest leaders of our times, past and present, you see that at career defining moments, they zagged when everyone else zigged.

Executing a true omnichannel transformation is precisely a zig-zag moment for many retailers.

Striking the balance of where to invest your capital is difficult, with many retailers spending finite capital on an online offer, occasionally to the detriment of the other side of the physical shop.

But is it reasonable that online investment should dominate all other forms of investment? Perhaps temporarily, or in an intermediary period while building out omnichannel capability.

However, the real challenge is in maintaining that balance and ensuring investment in the physical experience, staff leadership and coaching and interesting expressions of the brand.

A branded house of brands can and does exist online, with some online offers moving closer to a brand experience. However, to suggest that it replaces the human experience of physical retail is stretching it.

Does your heart warm to the click on another Amazon product seamlessly delivered? Perhaps there is a certain amount of satisfaction in the time, and possibly money, saved. But the heart-warming experience of great physical retail it is not.

However, if retailers spend the vast majority of their capital on their online capability, it will result in the regrettable erosion of the magnificence of physical retail (and some are eroding far more clearly than others).

It’s time to invest in shops again

What will happen to shops, which still attract the majority of brand-seeking customers, if the physical channel is under capitalised and on the sideline?

Online conversion rates sit on average at around 3-4 per cent level, while the in-store conversion rate for specialty retailers on average is at least 8 times that.

And yet, are the “zaggers” increasing their investment in the physical channel?

I have seen enough data from our consumer insights and customer  connection surveys to know there hasn’t been a material increase in sales and service training, and yet sales teams are interacting with a more informed customer. They remain in many cases an under-invested asset.


Are service scores in retail shops increasing, or staff metrics such as opening, add-on and closing sale ratios increasing?  For some, yes, but not all.

How many retailers have you seen inviting their online customers into their shops? How many in-store sales associates have you seen offer an online service for their product? There is work to do to find the right balance.

The paradox is that we need to invest more in both online and offline retail to create that retail ecosystem. Customers are interacting with retailers across many different platforms, both physical and digital. They expect a consistent experience.

Whether it’s offering click and collect to e-commerce customers, or prompting customers to access more product information online, customer expectations need to be met at every level. Anything else is paradoxical.

Brian Walker is founder and CEO of Retail Doctor Group, a retail advisory and consultancy group and the Australian elected partner member of the global retail expert’s alliance Ebeltoft Group.

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