House of Fraser’s journey to multichannel innovation

House of Fraser is providing technology offerings in the form of mobile in stores and buy-and-collect innovations

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House of Fraser is staking its claim as an elite multichannel retailer by providing technology offerings in the form of mobile in stores and even buy-and-collect innovations, including a partnership with coffee shop Café Nero.

Described as elite and sitting among the top five in Internet Retailing’s list of 500 online retailers, executive director of multichannel at House of Fraser Andy Harding said he was astonished how “little old House of Fraser” had made it to the top five, after decades of unstable growth during the second half of the 20th century.

After a challenging period, the retailer finally launched its website in 2007, but Harding said the department store was well behind the curve of maturity, with John Lewis launching online offerings six years previously.

Overhauling the mobile platform

But the retailer began to catch up by redeveloping its website for mobile and touchscreen in 2013 – before it renovated online, as it was seeing a substantial increase in traffic from mobile.

Speaking at Internet Retailing’s conference in London on 14 October, Harding said 70% of House of Fraser customers still shop just in store, leading the retailer to focus on innovation for consumers in its physical outlets. 

He explained the retailer has been encouraging customers to get their mobile phones out of their pockets while shopping in store, as he said they are more likely to engage with the brand.

“Our app now detects you are in store and slips into store mode,” he said, explaining the app brings functionalities specific to store – such as scanning capabilities, stock levels and navigation maps – to the front of the app.

The retailer also has staff equipped with mobile devices, as well as a buy-and-collect check-in area and kiosks for ordering in store. “It’s a fundamental success because of staff engagement,” said Harding, who said retailers really need staff to be on board with technology advancements. 

“Staff have to understand the value of mobile for you to win the battle. If staff see it as an extension of the stock room and a sale they wouldn’t otherwise make, you really win,” he added.

Implementing beacon technology

Harding also said he sees real value from beacon technology, and has seen customers really engage with its pilot of beacon-enabled store mannequins which it rolled out to its Aberdeen store in August 2014. Harding said the technology allows House of Fraser stores to be shoppable at night when customers pass the windows. “There has to be a business case in that,” he added.

“We’re rolling out to all of our stores and windows as soon as we possibly can,” he said. “There’s a huge future for beacons and what they can mean for multichannel retail.”

Offering convenient delivery 

Harding also pointed out how important delivery options are to customers who shop online, saying House of Fraser is now ahead of everyone else in the market in terms of its delivery proposition.

“Customers keep telling us home delivery is not convenient,” said Harding. “Most people work, and taking time off work for even a 15-minute slot is still a pain, and some offices don’t allow delivery.”

House of Fraser offers evening delivery up until 10pm nationwide which it had to build from scratch because there was no courier which could provide it. “This will be a key battleground, and in 2015 we will be launching incredible things, particularly around the buy-and-collect service,” said Harding.

Buy-and-collect partnership with Café Nero

In 2011, the retailer also opened the world’s first stockless internet store in Aberdeen, which is an area without a House of Fraser department store. This allows customers who wouldn’t normally shop with the retailer to access a point to pick up online orders. “Aberdeen has been a roaring success,” said Harding.

Its newest buy-and-collect offering is a partnership with Café Nero, where a branch in Cambridge has recently opened that allows customers to come in the coffee shop at their convenience to pick up items ordered online from House of Fraser.

“Buy and collect is truly incremental,” said Harding.

He added the partnership has great potential for both brands because it raises awareness of the retailer, while Café Nero also get extra footfall from House of Fraser customers.

Future innovations – mobile payments and wearable technologies

While Harding said you can’t predict the future because the path of technology isn’t clear, he said he could hedge his bets on a couple of technologies which are on the horizon.

I would now expect to see a significant shift from credit card payments to mobile wallets in the next two years

Andy Harding, House of Fraser

In particular, Harding believes payments will change dramatically over the next couple of years, now Apple has launched a phone enabled with near field communication (NFC) and its Apple Pay mobile wallet.  

“Apple has set the path for so many user experiences, and I would now expect to see a significant shift from credit card payments to mobile wallets in the next two years,” he said. “Mobile wallets will be the primary method of payment in that timeframe.”

Harding also pointed to radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags which can provide constant knowledge of stock levels, and the internet of things (IoT) which can open doors to the amount of data available to retailers.

Wearable technologies will also have an effect on the retail sector, according to Harding. He described the Oculus Rift – an immersive virtual reality headset – as "game-changing" and “beyond anything you can imagine”.

“Think about what this could do for retail experience for the future,” he said, describing how customers may use the device to immerse themselves in a store shopping experience from the comfort of their sofa, with an avatar which knows their size and their favourite brands.

“I really do think this can be part of the future,” he said.

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