How 4 Retailers Are Using Digital And Mobile To Create A More Seamless Shopping Experience

As the lines blur between online and offline shopping, we look at how bricks and mortar retailers are using beacons, RFID, 3-D printing, and other digital tools to offer a better user experience for platform agnostic customers.


British retailers are investing heavily in the use of digital and mobile in-store to persuade customers bricks and mortar shops aren’t just relevant in a digital world but the only place to get the best retail experience in the run-up to Christmas.


For example John Lewis, best-known in creative circles for its emotive advertising, is now making digital waves with plans to test a number of new apps designed to deepen customers’ physical in-store experience in coming weeks.

First up in early November will be an in-store 3-D printing pilot which, combined with RFID tagging, will help people choosing a new sofa. The new interactive in-store sofa studio will enable customers to select from a range of 3-D printed sofa models to get a better idea of what an item will look like, then place it on a “smart table” which detects the RFID tag to show the sofa on a computer screen. Once a selected fabric swatch is placed alongside on the smart table, a mock-up will be shown changing color as the customer picks different fabrics, John Lewis’s innovation manager John Vary explains.

The retailer is also fine-tuning plans to pilot new micro-location targeting technology from a start-up called Localz–inaugural winner of the retailer’s first technology business incubator, JLAB. Using beacon technology to track customers’ behavior as they move around in-store, Localz enables in-store services to be better tailored and optimized, accordingly.

A first iteration will enable a customer’s arrival in-store to trigger a pre-ordered product to be readied for collection, significantly reducing waiting time at John Lewis’s Click&Collect counter. Subsequent applications may include a navigational aid and sending customers messages and offers relevant to their precise location in-store.

The initiatives mark a renewed emphasis by John Lewis on creating a seamless retail experience in which digital bridges the gap between customers’ online and offline shopping behavior. “Everything we are doing is driven by a desire to create not a series of shopping experiences but a seamless shopping journey,” says Vary. “It’s all about humanizing technology in the physical retail space to make the retail experience more interactive and playful. But the ultimate goal is immersion to build deeper engagement with John Lewis’s products and brand.”


Which is sound logic, according to research published this week by brand activation agency Geometry Global.

While regular and frequent online purchasing (defined as buying online “most days”) grew from 5% to 7% between 2011 and 2013, the use of digital within the purchasing journey has risen faster, according to Geometry’s Connected Shopper study.

An estimated 60% of those surveyed now use mobile or tablets while in-store to compare prices, check product information or take pictures. Meanwhile 65% claim visits to bricks and mortar stores inform their online purchases.

The upshot? According to Cesar Montes, chief strategy officer, EMEA, at Geometry: “There is no such thing as an offline or an online journey to purchase as every purchasing journey becomes a combination of both.”

Burberry is widely cited as a leading example of a bricks and mortar retailer embracing digital. Behind the glamor and glitz of its floor to ceiling digital screens and in-store catwalks, effort has focused on seamless retailing which will be center stage when it opens its new Rodeo Drive flagship store on November 7.


Its opt-in Customer 1-2-1 tool, for example, allows sales people to create and view customer profiles, including a visual wardrobe and a global transaction history for use online and offline, which stores product and fit preferences.

Its recently launched Beauty Box concept store in London’s Covent Garden, meanwhile, allows customers to virtually try on new colors. Last month the company even introduced in-Tweet purchasing.

Vary, who formerly worked in digital and innovation roles at Burberry now oversees John Lewis’s recently launched in-house ideas lab Room Y. And his focus in recent months has been on sharpening the retailer’s approach to retail innovation.

“You’ve got to get a new idea in-store fast, test it one way, then develop its next iteration before testing it again–perhaps for another product or department,” he explains. “Before evolving it further and testing it again.”

It is an approach born of digital development rather than traditional retailing, and one with which a growing number of U.K. bricks and mortar retailers are now grappling, according to Peter Veash, chief executive of digital change specialist The Bio Agency.


“Many traditional retailers are now looking to demonstrate their relevance in a digital world, and there are a number of clear areas on which they are focusing,” he says.

Some examples include: cashless stores like Victoria Beckham’s new Mayfair boutique that only use mobile payment, stores which display just one example of each product where your correct size is delivered direct to the changing room, and stores without closing hours as they have interactive windows.

Another U.K. retailer House of Fraser is piloting mannequins with built-in beacon technology designed by technology company Iconeme to tell customers, via their smartphone, what the mannequins are wearing and where items can be found in-store.

House of Fraser is trialling a new “multichannel shopping” concept, too, where customers can shop at the store’s Cambridge branch using tablets at a local Caffe Nero or, if they prefer, view, select, try on or collect pre-ordered items in a House of Fraser-branded area on the cafe’s first floor.

Convenience store One Stop is now rolling out Apple’s beacon technology to offer customers bespoke discounts via smartphone as soon as they arrive in-store.


The brand is owned by Tesco which recently tested an interactive virtual shop at Gatwick Airport with products displayed on giant touch screens which customers could buy using the barcode scanning function on their Tesco grocery app.

The BIO Agency, meanwhile, is developing Taggle–a product which combines NFC and bluetooth payment technology and will enable customers to self-checkout when it’s launched next year.

However the big challenge all retailers still face, Veash points out, is how best to integrate interesting technologies such as these into an overall, seamless, platform-agnostic shopping experience.

“Many traditional retail businesses must re-think digital and the role it plays in their business model, and an obvious focus is the computer every shopper now has in their pocket when they go in-store,” he believes.

“Yet retailers are yet to work out how to use smartphones properly. And while they’re struggling to keep up, the risk is online retailers–ranging from giants such as Amazon and eBay who are now moving into the real world to smaller niche players like online bike brand Rapha–will dominate and dictate what is tomorrow’s seamless retail shopping experience.”

About the author

Meg Carter is a UK-based freelance journalist who has written widely on all aspects of branding, media, marketing & creativity for a wide range of outlets including The Independent, Financial Times and Guardian newspapers, New Media Age and Wired.