Airbnb, Halfords and Urban Outfitters: Engaging real consumers with the digital world

Pointing to the unique values of Halfords, Rivenell said that the company is actually there for all of life’s journeys. From a car seat for a couple’s first born, to a child getting their first bike and next bike to the first car.

“Acknowledging that, we have embedded service in our DNA and having colleagues to deliver service is fundamental,” said Rivenell. Explaining how the benefits of Halfords’ online and real world channels, he added: “I can buy a bike from Amazon, but Amazon won’t build the bike or service the bike.”

The answer is introducing the proper training to staff, he said, admitting some team members are more tech-savvy and others are pure hands-on operators. “We’re considering what digital solutions can empower staff and customers.”

For Urban Outfitters’ Andrew Mclean, COO and head of international, the message for brands can be taken away from Brad Pitt zombie film, World War Z. Not that he liked the movie, he believes that: “Under threat, the thing we have to do is evolve.”

A 45-year-old company launched in 1971, Mclean said the mission has always been to keep track and stay ahead. Starting as fixed storefronts, Urban Outfitters scaled into mail order and was an early web adopter, which he feels has been pivotal for global growth.

“We really used channels where they matter and underpinning it is the brand and staying focused on the customer,” Mclean said. On marketing, he added visuals are the way forward. “We don’t do a lot of words, we like to do a lot of pictures,” which is something that ties in well with the target audience of 18-28 year olds.

Beyond that, creating a multichannel business means a rich experience from all platforms. While the online world is rich and eye-catching, flash events in stores have had customers dancing on tables. The brand has also pushed beyond that of just apparel to tackle beauty and homeware too, in a bit to “create a lifestyle brand about more than just the clothing”.

As part of that goal, that’s meant having food & beverages served in stores and having bands play live music. “It’s about taking the space to increase reasons for people to go to stores and create real community of individuals,” said Mclean, who noted a brand experience should be enhanced and immersive.

He said the home market segment has been “tremendous and incredibly important” due to its ability to meet needs of customers whether they’re buying online or in-store.

Urban Outfitters has experienced huge growth around the adoption of mobile among customers. To that end it accounts for high levels of engagement and the beginnings of many purchase journeys, whether that’s sales via email or social media – they no longer need to wait to get home and onto a computer.

“If you’re not playing in this [mobile] area, you’re starting to full behind. Those still focused on the desktop are really going to struggle,” said Mclean. Commenting on the brand’s plans for Asia, he highlighted a crucial element, because even mobile isn’t enough it seems: “China doesn’t even look at mobile, their starting point is social. The customer lives for that information.”

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