Retailer John Lewis Takes on Showrooming With Digital Innovation

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Last week showrooming reared its ugly head when both Staples and Radio Shack announced major store closings. The office supply giant plans to close as many as 225 North American stores while slashing annualized costs by up to $500 million by the end of 2015. Radio Shack plans to close 1,100 of its 5,200 stores.

Last week showrooming reared its ugly head when both Staples and Radio Shack announced major store closings. The office supply giant plans to close as many as 225 North American stores while slashing annualized costs by up to $500 million by the end of 2015. Radio Shack plans to close 1,100 of its 5,200 stores.

While Radio Shack blamed outdated stores and weak mobile sales and Staples pointed to increased competition for the closures, both companies cited a more serious long-term threat that also affects most brick-and-mortar retailers--Showrooming. The recent practice of looking at products in stores and then purchasing them online at lower prices has retailers scrambling to either embrace the trend or combat it. This is done largely through strategies that entail equipping associates with handheld devices to help customers find their desired products online while in a bricks and mortar location.

While some retailers view showrooming as a threat, others treat it as a competitive advantage. John Lewis, a department store in the U.K., announced last week its plans to combat showrooming by bringing innovation into its stores and letting data drive all customer engagement strategies for more personalized interactions.

The company has invited start-up companies to submit their plans for developing systems that can help the company improve its customers' shopping experience by linking their online experience to in-store and for finding new ways to communicate with customers. John Lewis will choose five of these startups to compete in a 15-week business incubator JLab over the summer to develop their products supported by a team of John Lewis leaders. In a press release, the retailer listed these criterion for ideas for new technologies:

- Helping customers shop: in-store innovation, omnicustomer experience (for example self service product info, prices), and technology driven customer inspiration.
- Simplifying customers' lives: innovation around the 'Internet of things' (how all devices will communicate together enabling a more connected home).
- Knowing each other: using data to drive real-time, in-store personalization for customers.
- Surprise us: Any innovative product or solution that delights customers by enhancing their shopping experience.

Andrew Murphy, retail director at John Lewis and executive sponsor of JLAB, said: "The innovation focus we are looking for needs to help provide our customers with the most coherent, cross-channel shopping experience possible. We know customers really value being able to shop with John Lewis by phone, in shops and online and anything which enhances or simplifies that experience is of interest for us."

As John Lewis looks to digital innovation as the next frontier in enticing people to shop in bricks-and-mortar, think about how you plan to adapt to our ever-changing retail environment. How will you prevent your organization from following in the footsteps of Staples and Radio Shack?

EXPERT OPINION
EXPERT OPINION