June 25, 2012, 3:48 PM

Electronics merchants charge into cross-channel retailing

Retailers of electronics and general merchandise in the U.S. and U.K. lead the way.

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When it comes to making it easy for consumers to shop both online and in physical stores, the retailers that do it best are in the categories of general merchandise and consumer electronics and based in the United States and the United Kingdom, according to a new study from global retail consultants Ebeltoft Group.

The Global Cross Channel Retailing Report, which is based on data compiled from 144 retailers across 17 countries, defines cross-channel retailing as an operation that drives sales, customer communications, and the availability of products across multiple selling channels such as web sites, stores, catalogs, mobile commerce and social media. The report compares the level of cross-channel capabilities among four retail categories: General merchandise, consumer electronics, home improvement and specialty fashion.

The study rates the level of performance of retailers in each category for their offerings in each of five operating areas: consistency of shopping services across channels; the ability of shoppers to research online and buy offline; the ability to purchase online and pick up or return items in a store; a “connected store” environment supported by digital shopping services; and the ability to serve customers across social, mobile and local channels.

In addition to the United States and the United Kingdom, the other 15 countries in the study are Australia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, China, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Portugal, Romania, Singapore, Spain, Switzerland and Turkey.

In issuing ratings, the study used five definitions of performance: absent, underdeveloped, in development, advanced and highly advanced. The results included only six instances of the highest rating of highly advanced, including one for the ability to shop online and pick up and return in store among specialty fashion retailers in the United Kingdom. All of the other highest performance ratings were among general merchandise or consumer electronics retailers in the United States and the United Kingdom.

Overall by category, consumer electronics retailers edged out all others with 42% of them rated as “in development” across all cross-channel capabilities, followed by general merchandise retailers, at 40%, home improvement 37% and fashion 32%.

Consumer electronics merchants in just the United States, however, far surpassed all others with 90% of them rated as “highly advanced” across all cross-channel capabilities. By comparison, 46% of consumer electronics retailers in the United Kingdom and 43% of consumer electronics retailers from all 17 countries were rated as “in development.”

The higher performance levels among consumer electronics retailers and general merchandise retailers is not surprising, the study says, because of the intense competition among web and multichannel retailers in these categories. “This makes sense considering consumer behavior and the competitive pressures from e-commerce in these sectors, and the response by multichannel retailers to leverage their stores,” the study says.

The study goes on to note that cross-channel retailing is likely to continue expanding and improving, though perhaps not at the same pace among all retailers. “Cross channel is at a turning point,” the study says. “The interest in cross-channel retail strategies is at an unprecedented peak among all types of retailers. We are clearly in early stages of cross-channel development among leading retailers.”

But time will tell how far such strategies reach across all retailers, adds. “It remains to be seen if successful adoption of integrated digital strategies will gather broad momentum or if it is only the exceptional retailer who is able to reach the full potential.”

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