1. Discussions and Conclusions

7.1 Discussion

The data collected in the above process was analysed and interpreted for drawing meaningful conclusion. Few factors such as impact, sustainability, efficiency, relevance and effectiveness are very significant to evaluate the data collected from the respondents (Kumar 2010). The primary research findings have helped enrich the research with personal opinions from the desired target market and industry expert. They have helped analyse the strategic advantages a brand can have by applying an integration of the online and offline channels.

Another strong establishment from the primary research findings are the following added advantages and opportunities for continuing to enhance the online business for brands in the coming years (known literary authors back these up):

  1. Global Reach: a website can be reached anywhere with an Internet connection, providing uniform information, removing barriers and leading to a more global economy (May, 2000; Chaffey, 2004).
  2. Cost reduction: Delivering services electronically reduces the need for physical materials and staff (Chaffey, 2004).
  3. Convenience: websites are not constrained by store opening hours and products can be delivered to your home (Song, Fiore and Park, 2006).
  4. Data Collection: database technology captures detailed information about customers and enables educated targeting (May, 2000).
  5. Increased Range: online flexibility allows a larger range of products and services for customers than its traditional counterpart (Song, Fiore and Park, 2006).
  6. Sociability: Although the Internet removes human contact, it allows conversations with anyone, near or far (Chaffey, 2009). Online communities and social networking sites bring people together.
  7. Customer Feedback: communities can enhance customer service, as customers relate preferences to brands (Dutta and Srivastava, 2001).
  8. Mobile Commerce: smart phone devices are extremely popular and allow users to go online at any time, giving them complete control (Euromonitor, 2010).
  9. Future Technology: information technology is developing at a rapid rate, making the future harder to predict (Daum and Scheller, 2000). Options for high-street retailers to improve customer experience online are growing (Drapers, 2009).

The customer interpretation of an experience is based on all brand interactions, culminating in a need for retail channel integration throughout all brands (Shaw and Ivens, 2002). Customers follow individual journeys between all available channels that result in negative ‘value gaps’ if the experience is interrupted (Vandermerwe, 1999; Chaffey, 2009). Dutta and Srivastava (2001) stress the importance of the integration of online and offline experiences as these two worlds are converging and should be treated as a whole.

Furthermore, ‘customer loyalty’ is another aspect worth discussing. It is well supported by the ‘Multiple Channel Loyalty Framework’ suggested by Wallace et. al that if a retailer provides multiple channels, customers have the opportunity to engage with them over a number of contact points which has positive implications of enhancing customer satisfaction and in turn increasing customer loyalty.
This can be seen as a key strategy to ensure differentiation, company growth and profitability (Scmitt, 2003) as can also be concluded from the ASOS’ success story Chapter 2: 2.1).

As technology continues to change, brands must stay ahead and embrace new opportunities in order to maintain and build competitive advantage (Chaffey, 2009) as can be learnt from Chapter Six: Case Study – Next. This forms a need for knowledge of current mediums to influence customer experience and form future strategies.

“The concept of ‘multi-channel’ retailing is more than 100 years old…yet its emergence as a principal strategy is relatively new” (Gamans-Poloian, 2009:11). As early as the 19th century retailers such as Sears in the U.S were selling through multiple channels such as catalogues and a chain of brick-and-mortar stores.

It has only been in the past decade, where ‘multichannel’ strategy has become recognized as a dominant business model. Internet is a clearly viable and successful channel for fashion distribution. The growth of the commercial use of Internet, and more recently the growing use of smartphones and apps has urged retailers to adopt multiple channels in order to connect with the constant changing needs of their customers as seen in the literature review that supports the strategic advantages of online-offline channel integration (Chapter 3 and Chapter 1).

The interview findings also stated that UK is acknowledged as a saturated market (Bearne, 2012; Euromonitor International, 2010). For the retailers to manage this, changes within their strategies will be necessary (Euromonitor International, 2013). The motivators for internationalization evident in today’s market are comparable to those that are said to have influenced retailers distinctly between the 1960s and 1980s (Alexander, 1995; Kacker, 1985; Evans et al., 2008).

Lastly, as (Easey, 2002:4), states “….fashion marketing is different from many other areas of marketing. The very nature of fashion, where change is intrinsic, gives different emphasis to marketing activities”. There is no formula for a successful marketing strategy: creativity, flexibility and serendipity also play their part in successful strategy development. However, structured planning should improve the chances of developing a successful strategy for retailers today.

7.2 Conclusion

The thesis concluded that the worldwide economy has had a knock-on effect within the UK retail market causing many retailers to publish unflattering profit accounts in the last 12 months. As interest rates fluctuate and the consumer loses confidence in the UK economy, many consumers are looking to reduce debt and mortgages. As this becomes a spending priority it is likely to have an impact on discretionary spend (Verdict, 2008). This will increase pressure on retailers to ensure customer retention and share of wallet is at least maintained, if not increased. However, globally, the fashion industry is at the forefront of emerging industries (confirmed in chapter 2). Even in mature markets, such as the UK approach of using trend forecasting and emphasis on short product life cycles allows for continuous growth and development (Rocha et al, 2005).

As far as the research question is concerned, the findings from the focus groups (Chapter 5), application of Kotler’s Stimulus Response Model (Chapter 2: 2.1.3), McGoldricks driving forces of Internationalisation and Wallace et. al’s Multiple Channel Loyalty Framework (Discussion Review) all suggest that fashion retail is moving away from being product focused to a more customer-centric approach.

The Internet has driven a dramatic increase in the accessibility of products, further emphasizing the importance of the experience and emotions evoked to form brand relationships (Shaw and Ivens, 2002). High experiential content on websites causes raised purchase intentions from customers, thus increasing revenue and profitability (Schmitt, 2003).

However, online customer interface will not replace offline, so retailers should not try to mimic store experience on their website, but enhance it (Dutta and Srivastava, 2001, Drapers, 2009). Underhill (2000) predicts that retailers will become more creative with physical stores as they are integrated with their offline offer.

Dutta and Srivastava (2001) see these changes as unpredictable but likely to lead to more social and entertaining store experiences, still providing touch and feel. May (2000) agrees that physical retail space will adopt to become a showcase rather than a storehouse of goods, as E-commerce progresses. This highlights the importance of an integrated experience of both online and offline that supports the core identity of a brand (Okonkwo, 2010) thus answering the research question by suggesting that

brands certainly have an advantage to have an integrated presence provided its used to the best of their potential.

7.3 Scope

Every piece of research comes with its own room for study and restrictions. This thesis also had its share of scopes and limitations.
The scope of research will include: to determine which factors influence the consumers to prefer online shopping in comparison to the traditional bricks-and- mortar retailing (See Appendix J), why has diversifying into multichannel approaches especially online presence become a must-have for the fashion retailers in U.K.

7.4 Limitations of the study

The limitations for the chosen research topic included the fact that as the paper will be including one case study of brand carrying out this practice (integration), it might not be true of the consumers’ perceptions of how beneficial it may or may not be for other brands. Also, as the research will be focused on brands projecting this integration in the entire U.K and also because there is a vast amount of information available on the topic, the given time period may not be sufficient to gather and analyze enough primary and secondary resources. Such a diverse topic needs a good one year and way larger word count to research and analyse the trend, the consumers in detail. Another limitation was that the research only studied the consumers’ perception and not the retailers’ point of view on the topic, which would vary. Lastly there could also be limitations on the part of the respondents. An in depth insight into the minds of the respondents cannot be gained with the help of the primary research method (Oppenheim 2000). The samples drawn for the study may not be enough to generalize results. In some instances the respondents may not have revealed the truth or been motivated enough to answer the focus group questions. Hence it is quite possible that the personal biases of the respondents would creep in. On the other hand, secondary data is very easily available and saves time but the accuracy of this is not sure (Kvale 2006).

7.5 Research Objectives Relooked

When the researcher had started this thesis, it was with the intention to fill a void in the research field of channel integration, to contribute to the existing research and to help the reader understand this growing phenomenon in a better way. The research objectives one had started with were:

  • Identify the developments of the growing online U.K retail sector to understand the uptake of e-commerce as a retail distribution channel within the 21st century.

Online retail in the fashion retail segment from 2008 to 2014 was discussed, various developments and forecasts analysed highlighting ecommerce examples and its evolution from earlier quick passing glances to mcommerce growth in the recent times. Thus, this research objective was completely achieved.

  • Examine the impact of e-commerce with reference to applicable theories and frameworks through a success story of ASOS.

The frameworks used to understand the rising impact of e-commerce with the help of a successful pure-player such as ASOS helped to gain analysis that proves to give potential answers to the questions rose, in turn helping in finishing the completion of this research objective.

  • Explore the strategic advantages of having an online-offline integration with the help of various examples of retailers who have been successful by adopting this amalgamation.

In the Literature Review, various theories given out by prior researchers were identified and critiqued fulfilling this research objective.

  • Discuss the effects of the not-so-recent phenomenon of Showrooming in today’s retail environment.

The thesis identified the growing trend of Showrooming and the customers who are carrying out comparison-shopping strongly. They have made use of this phenomenon to their best potential, as they will continue to shop where it is the most convenient for them. The research carried out was not only time consuming but also intricately performed to avoid losing out on any research matter. It can be said, that this research objective was successfully completed in the thesis.

  • Measure the consumers’ opinion as to whether the strategic implication of online-offline channel integration is advantageous for brands today

In the Literature Review, effectiveness of online-offline integration was analysed from different perspectives that included consumer attitudes, consumer purchase intentions, brand recall and recognitions, brand evaluations and consumer attitudes. Along with this, the focus groups and observational survey tested the effectiveness of these strategies as well. Thus, this research objective was accomplished effectively in the thesis journey.

7.6 Future Research

A strategic position according to Aeker and McCloughlin (2007:223) is “the face of the business strategy (which) specifies how the business aspires to be perceived (by its competitors, employees and partners) relative to its competitors and market. Further research on the topic can be done by a strategic application of cross-channel retailing, as it is a revolutionary way for fashion retailers and their customers to interact. It provides a seamless approach to the customer experience, offering customers the ability to float between the different channels made available to them at their own ease throughout the shopping journey.

Chatterjee (2010:11) goes on to state that a ‘cross-channel retailer’ is an evolution of a multichannel retailer wherein the consumer can not only product research and purchase in different channels but also has the ability to change channels while completing a purchase transaction, for example the consumer can order online and then pay and pick it up in store.”

Research undertaken for WARC states that 86% of respondents “use two or more channels to search for and ultimately purchase products and services” (Treadgold, 2010:2) thus highlighting the channel switching behavior through the customer purchase journey. A recommendation for further study includes an exploration into the how the cross channel retailing influences consumers’ purchasing decisions and what affects their brand perceptions and shopping behaviors. The study can be developed further to understand the target segment that could be analysed through demographics such as geographical locations and lifestyles to investigate and correlate their attitudes towards fashion and the affects that marketing efforts and media have on their buying preferences.

Conducting research on a larger scale will also allow for deeper analysis into whether fashion retailers can sustain success and capitalization on the target market (through the implication of channel integration) as generations move forward.

Continue reading on the next page for ‘References’

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I'm an eCommerce Project Director at an agency in London and a consultant for a number of eCommerce start-ups. I founded Think etc 9 years ago which now lets me share my research and experience with all the interesting brands, people, places and projects that I have been privileged to work with. My work on crowdsourcing was published by Oxford as part of a journal article and I have been obsessing over eCommerce and Magento over the past several years.