Multichannel will be the norm by 2018, says Travis Perkins

By 2018, retailers will consider multichannel the norm, and the term will no longer be used in job titles, said Matthew Baptist, head of space and merchandising at Travis Perkins.

"We couldn't have predicted 2015 a few years ago," he said. "We hear an awful lot about omnichannel and multichannel and we have multichannel directors, but we should be in a world in the future where the commercial director is your multichannel director.

"I think culturally we'll move on in 2018 and it will be the norm. Why would I develop a product that wouldn't suit right across all of my channels?"

Speaking on a panel at the Buying and Merchandising Summit in London last week, Baptist explained that the builders' merchant is just at the start of its digital journey.

"It's a whole new world for us, we sold our first product online a couple of weeks ago," he said, noting how it is not in a builder's culture to buy labour products online.

"We need to educate our customers that we have a presence other than in buying and merchandising," he added. "But our industry is immature, and we're not up there with other retailers – our customers don't get it yet that they can buy building materials online."

Baptist said Travis Perkins is aware that its customers are browsing the site and looking for trade offers, but because individual customers have different trading terms, it is difficult to set up individual pricings for each customer.

"We're converting our customers from browsing to purchasing, but it is early days," he said.

The future of the high street

On the panel at the Buying and Merchandising Summit, Baptist was joined by Sharon MacLaren, merchandising director at Agent Provocateur. She bought up the future of the high street and suggested retailers will have to become much more clever with their stores.

"I hope what comes out of it is that there won't be a generic high street we had in any town where you see the same stores, but more of these young businesses starting up and doing something a little bit different," she said.

MacLaren said stores will have to provide additional services to what customers can do online and they will also have to provide an experience.

"It's about the theatre," she said. "Look at Harrods, there's always something going on and a reason to go there, that’s where people have to try and be clever. But there's always room for someone else to do something a little bit different."

Baptist – who used to work for Tesco, Sainsbury's and Asda – said the high street will split into two directions. "Businesses you need to go to for convenience and places you want to go to."

"I enjoy interacting and shopping when buying a new bicycle – I like to see it and test it. I think 'experiential retail' and 'need retail' will be the future, but this will create a squeeze in the middle for those retailers where you don't have to go to anymore," he added.