Cisco UK & Ireland Blog

Diary of a Digitally Disrupted Consumer: #BacktoSchool

August 31, 2016

Back to school; three words guaranteed to drive fear into parents everywhere. It’s not the prospect of waving their little darlings off after the interminably long summer break that’s so terrifying, but running the gauntlet of school uniform shopping.

With the new term beginning early September across England, Ireland and Wales (August in Scotland), demand for school uniform peaks towards the end of August, around the same time as levels of boredom and fractiousness among children. The annual retail pilgrimage of replenishing uniform is a mutually hated task that was undertaken by 44% of parents with school age children this time last year according to research by Verdict Retail.

However, the stakes – and stress levels – aren’t only high for parents, but for retailers too.

Room for improvement

The Financial Times estimates the value of the UK’s back to school market at £1.4bn, with supermarkets topping the list as parents make buying choices based predominately on price, availability and durability. It’s too important a market to get wrong, yet getting it right certainly isn’t child’s play.

While many parents would love to order everything online from a single retailer, children have an irritating habit of being different (and sometimes peculiar) shapes, which means that some form of physical interaction is almost always required, if only to handle returns of multiple sizes. And this is where the customer experience is too often found lacking…

  • In-store, shoppers are still limited to what’s on the shelves or in the stock room. If the size or hue they need is not available, they have to go home (or to a coffee shop) to check availability, most likely from their smart phone.
  • And while consumers can now place order via their tablet or smart phone from pretty much anywhere, they often need to negotiate a complex returns process, assuming they can find the in-store collection booth in the first place.

The above scenarios certainly don’t deliver the consistent, joined-up customer experience that consumers expect and are beginning to demand in increasing numbers. Entirely separate channels and disjointed processes just don’t wash well any more (like school jumpers with too high a polyester count).

Top of the class

Thankfully, clothing and footwear retailers in the UK and Ireland are beginning to make real progress in connecting up their real and virtual store operations to deliver a customer experience that is distinctly less frustrating. Cisco is working with retailers of varying sizes on technology-led initiatives that include arming (and importantly training) staff with tablets to order online in-store and installing standalone online ordering points. All measures which serve to soften the channel boundaries in a customer-friendly way.

Reassuringly for those still to brave the back to school stampede, Tesco’s F&F clothing brand, a major player in the school uniform market and Cisco customer, is flying the flag for a better customer experience. Our video shows how they have used technology to break down barriers between bricks and clicks, expanding the range of items available to customers in stores and offering increased delivery choices to boot:

On the face of it, these may seem like simple uses of technology, but they are perfect examples of retailers putting customer experience at the heart of their strategies and digitally transforming to make it better, to make sense. Which makes for happier customers and, ultimately, higher revenues.

Next steps:

  • See how Cisco can help you to reimagine retail by watching our video on engaging digital shoppers
  • Learn about the Six Pillars of Customer Experience Excellence by downloading our White Paper
  • Sign up to the Cisco UK & Ireland blog to make sure you don’t miss the next in the series
  • Visit our Retail industry page to read more about Cisco solutions for retailers
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