RBTE interview: Boots omnichannel director Robin Phillips

The start of a new year is typically a time for predictions, but understanding customer behaviour can be difficult to forecast.

With the emergence of new social platforms and tech devices that are changing the way consumers access and interact with brands, retailers have been pushed to transform their operations and infrastructure to serve customers very differently to how they did just ten years ago.

This week Essential Retail caught up with Boots UK's Robin Phillips, whose job title of ominichannel & development director would perhaps not have even existed as little as five years ago, which in itself underlines the rapid evolution taking place in the industry.

But what is Phillips' take on the immediate 12 months ahead? What does he expect to define the way retail moves forward in 2016?

He commented: "My predictions for 2016 are that we'll see even more 'uber-personalisation' for customers, a rise in 'global baskets' or people shopping more internationally online and it becoming a more normalised expectation for brands or retailers to act as media or content owners."

The underlying message there is that retailers will continue on their drive to dive deep into data insight, in order to get to know their customers' shopping habits and, arguably, move towards more 'one-to-one' commerce conversations. And with the rise of online marketplaces and retailers continuing to look outside the UK for growth opportunities, it is clear that shoppers will be able to consume on an even greater international scale.

Creating content for customers will naturally gather momentum the more retailers find themselves engaging with shoppers online and via social media sites. Retailers such as Net-a-Porter, or Yoox Net-a-Porter Group as it is now known following the merger of the two European luxury e-tailers, see themselves as media companies offering a range of services and customer engagement platforms.

Furniture e-tailer Made.com has also recently launched its own social site as a way of opening up consumer conversations and providing an opportunity for integrating user-generated content into its wider sales story. And these trends are indicative of wider changes in what customers expect from brands.

Phillips said: "For me, the top subject on our innovation agenda at the moment is delivering new omnichannel and personalised services.

"We want to offer new and truly personalised services for our customers' health and beauty needs, and deliver them at scale in an agile way. Over the last decade, we've seen customers' expectations significantly increase."

He added: "The advancements in technology have meant that we now have to build and sustain customers' trust in a different paradigm, and the main opportunities that I see as a result of these advances are of course, personalisation; but also mobile technology, and offering omnichannel/fulfilment, for example the rise of 'order & collect'."

Phillips, who joined Boots in 2014 after four years as Waitrose eCommerce director, says he is interested in understanding how technology is integrating into people's everyday lives, and he cites parent company Walgreens' use of wearable technology to remind its patients when they need to take their prescription medicines as a pertinent example of this process in action.

The omnichannel director, who has also held the roles of head of business development at John Lewis and head of commercial finance at Waitrose, will be speaking at next month's RBTE, which will run from 9-10 March at London Olympia.

His presentation, 'Boots – Powering the future of 'Feel Good' for our customers in a dynamic omnichannel world', will take place at 11:30 on Wednesday 9 March. He will address a number of the topics mentioned above, as well as how the Boots UK in-store experiences in delivering health, beauty and convenience need to be seamlessly integrated.

Building customer trust in a new retailing environment is set to be a prominent part of the presentation, too.

Phillips noted: "Customers are also becoming savvier, for example shopping online for the best price comparisons.

"Retailers have responded by becoming more transparent with their pricing, however we know that our customers and markets are changing faster than ever, and at a rate faster than most businesses have the ability to move at."

Phillips will be speaking about omnichannle retail at RBTE on 9 March at 14:50 in Theatre A. 

Click here to register for your free RBTE ticket.