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Opinion

Low inventory model a bridge between online and physical retail

“The internet is a wonderful stock room” – Chris Kyvetos, Sneakerboy

We are seeing a growing number of retailers enhancing their offer by investing far less in inventory and far more in their digital interface, customer databases and social communities. These include the likes of Australian retailers, Sneakerboy and Kent & Lime.

However it would seem that this trend is becoming universal across the globe, with ‘low inventory’ being nominated as a hot key trend of the year by Ebeltoft Group, a global alliance of retail thought leaders. One example of this, and a retailer named in the top 10 most innovative retail companies around the world by Ebeltoft members for Retail Innovations 11, is British retailer, Made.com.

Made.com is a furniture e-tailer that has been in operation since 2010. In 2015, Made.com opened its first showroom in London, which leverages technology to close the gap between e-commerce and in-store retailing, while creating a captivating and truly innovative retail experience. From projecting virtual products onto walls to utilising 3D printers and providing handheld tablets, Made.com has created a format that overcomes the restrictions of physical space to offer the broad range of an online shop in a traditional bricks and mortar setting.

The instore projections are used alongside physical goods to help customers understand how different product combinations might work together in the home. Shoppers can view any desired product from the catalogue, in any size or colour, at the touch of a button. The innovative projections both satisfy customers’ desire to view physical goods and offer flexibility to customise, normally possible only online.

The seamless integration of offline to online and vice versa can be seen through the scan tags on products, allowing further information to be shown on-screen in store, where shoppers can collate wish lists to be emailed home. Similar to the strategy used by the Telstra Discovery Store in Sydney, this is not just providing an efficient customer experience – it is also providing the retailer with highly valuable behavioural data, enabling the brand to consistently meet evolving customer expectations and demand.

The store experience is also seamless with no direct point of sale desks interrupting the customer’s store journey. Instead, customers are guided through their purchase with a member of staff, which they complete through the online store using iMac stations.

Ultimately, the store’s primary purpose is to be a real-world showroom for products previously separated from consumers by their screens. However, rather than simply assembling warehouse stock in a stockroom, Made.com makes innovative use of technology, creating a portal with physical elements which energise the online offering, rather than overshadow it.

Made.com is a great example of ‘click-to-brick’ retail. An online retailer acknowledging the need to meet the physical demands of customers, because as we highlight to all of our clients, we must never forget that ultimately retail is a H2H (Human to Human) experience, therefore the value of a strong bricks and mortar presence is the shining diamond.

Brian Walker is founder and CEO of Retail Doctor Group, an Ebeltoft member, and can be contacted on (02) 9460 2882 or [email protected].

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