Old Dog Retailer Learns Spectacular New Online Tricks

How a 150 year old British retailer is showing everyone how ecommerce should be done.

John Lewis websiteUntil recently I’d never heard of British retailer John Lewis, but its name keeps coming up in the online press about how to do things well online. EG: How to make a good profit.

That a traditional, bricks and mortar high street retailer founded in 1864 is succeeding brilliantly online speaks volumes about all the other offline retailers who keep lamenting about the effects of online competition.

The John Lewis story provides a text book example for what Australian retailers need to learn about doing business both online and offline.

John Lewis Gets it

In an interview on Mycustomer Andy Street, John Lewis' MD since 2007, said something I thought was really telling:

“We know that about 60% of our customers buy both online and in shops... the approach is to make it absolutely seamless for them to move from one to the other.”

60%!! Fantastic I thought, he gets it in a way that so many other retailers and marketers both offline and on just don’t.

There is so much business and sales intelligence in just that one phrase that it makes a mockery of several of the usual complaints about online business.

Firstly it’s obvious that John Lewis has embraced online shopping rather than resisting and fighting it every step of the way like so many Australian retailers.

Secondly, they are focusing on the total customer experience and not making dangerous delineations between offline and online shopping.

Don’t Fight Show-rooming; Encourage it

Rather than trying to fight “show rooming” the retailer has welcomed and encouraged it by offering free Wi-Fi in their stores.

They even put QR and barcodes on their products to allow customers to scan them and purchase items however they like: in-store, via mobile or via the web.

They are not charging people for trying things on or banning mobile devices.

As Mr Street says: “Customers are no longer concerned about the channel they use they want to shop at John Lewis when and how they choose.”

Oh, that is so beautifully refreshing I just wish Australian retailers could think that way.

Over 60% of all Sales Come from the Web

60 PercentBut let’s get back to the 60% figure. One of the many criticisms you’ll often hear about online shopping is that it only accounts for a small proportion of the total retail spend: usually between 8-12%.

So the argument goes that we shouldn’t get too excited and rush to put most of our marketing efforts into online just yet.

I’ve long argued that this is a dangerous mindset to be stuck in because, as Mr Street so eloquently put it, people are already using both mediums in a free flowing, seamless shopping process.

If businesses are not investing in online because of this, then they are seriously disconnected from their customers and missing out on sales.

Customers use all mediums to help them in their shopping journey. Just because a purchase is finalised offline, doesn’t mean it didn’t use the web, mobile and even apps in the process.

Your Customers Have Been Doing This for a Decade

Leading conversion rate optimisation pioneer Bryan Eisenberg pointed out in his book Waiting for Your Cat to Bark,” that over 50% of people buying cars in the US back in 2006 had already done all their research online.

They walked into the showroom knowing exactly what they wanted to buy and all the salesperson had to do was get out of the way and take the cheque.

Bryan also said that in 2006 almost half of all shoppers started their shopping process online.

Yet here we are almost 8 years later still arguing about how effective the online shopping phenomenon really is.

So let’s put that argument to the side for a moment and consider for a minute that over 60% of all sales (at the very least) are directly influenced by the online experience. That makes online business a whole different ball game.

Again, it’s a game so many retailers and businesses are still completely unaware of.

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