Retailers go all out for omnichannel

Drug stores, supermarkets, mass merchandisers find new ways to capture mobile, online traffic

Google has officially unveiled its testing program for Google Shopping Express, its new online delivery service in the San Francisco Bay area, signing up with retailers like Target, Walgreens and Raley's to allow customers to receive items directly from store shelves at their homes within a day.

The program has been widely described as an effort by Google to compete with e-commerce giant Amazon, but what sets Google Shopping Express apart is its sourcing partnership with brick-and-mortar retailers, particularly Target, which itself has made significant investments in omnichannel retail, most recently with its purchases of two online cooking-equipment retailers. As a whole slew of developments over the past couple of weeks has shown, omnichannel is becoming a key component of many retailers' business.

The trend touches drug stores, mass merchandisers and supermarkets alike. CVS recently launched an app for the Apple iPad that features a 3-D "virtual store," allowing access to pharmacy services, ExtraCare, the photo center, MinuteClinic and departments where they can shop. Walmart has expanded its "Scan & Go" mobile-checkout program to 70 stores around Atlanta and Bentonville, Ark. And Ahold USA has recently expanded its Peapod online grocery service with new pickup points in New York and other cities, not to mention its mobile shopping displays at commuter rail stations; Target installed similar displays in December during the holiday season, such as one at a Philadelphia bus stop.

Omnichannel is making enough noise that mobile device manufacturers have taken notice as well: Samsung's Galaxy S4 phone includes a device that converts barcodes, coupons and loyalty cards into a beam of light that can be read by standard laser barcode scanners, without any changes to existing point-of-sale technology.

So what does this all mean for brick-and-mortar stores?

According to recent surveys by AccentHealth, nearly half of surveyed smart-device owners have retail apps, and 91% of those using mobile devices in-store compare prices online or at other stores while shopping. This type of phenomenon has led to concerns about customers "showrooming" — looking for items in brick-and-mortar stores only to buy them for lower prices from a competing online retailer. But a February survey of 6,200 consumers by ForeSee found that while 70% of respondents reported using a mobile phone in a retail store during the 2012 holiday season, 62% of them accessed that store's site or app, while 37% reported accessing a competitor's site or app.

What this all says is that far from being intimidated by omnichannel, retailers are embracing it in all kinds of new and innovative ways.


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