In a world first, retailer Myer is combining traditional department store services such as gift wrapping and “new world” services such as online ordering and click-and-collect in digital hubs located in the centre of its stores.

The digital hubs will enable Myer customers to browse the internet using complimentary wi-fi, pick up online orders, use fitting rooms to try on online purchases, consult personal shoppers for style advice and recharge their smart phones while watching digital media walls displaying clips from Myer’s fashion shows.

Customers will also be able to book appointments for services such as beauty consultations, purchase from the gift registry, have parcels gift-wrapped and update their customer loyalty card details.

Myer CEO Richard Umbers assisting at a new digital hub in the Parramatta store in Sydney.Myer CEO Richard Umbers assisting at a new digital hub in the Parramatta store in Sydney. Photo: Louie Douvis

Myer chief executive Richard Umbers says many of these services are currently buried at the back of the store or, in the case of click-and-collect, conducted in distribution centres.

“We have brought them to the heart of the retail shop floor and enabled them digitally in a bright modern contemporary space,” said Mr Umbers, who unveiled the first pilot e-commerce hub at the Parramatta store, in Sydney’s west, on Thursday.

“We are bringing the love of shopping to life through blending the physical and the digital.”

The hubs are a key element of Mr Umber’s plan to reinvigorate the struggling department store chain and reverse a 20 year decline in sales by using digital technology to better understand customer shopping habits and make the chain more relevant to consumers by integrating bricks and mortar, and e-commerce operations.

“There is a new retail model emerging in Australia, one that is very customer centric, very focused on the customer but also strongly digitally enabled,” Mr Umbers told Fairfax Media.

“As a result of that there’s an opportunity for good retailers to leverage both the digital experience and the data from our Myer One [customer loyalty] program to deliver something that’s world class – it’s a key part of the future of the department store.”

The e-commerce hub is the first of its kind in Australia and may be the first in the world. While trendsetters such as John Lewis, Tesco and Argos in the UK have created digital hubs to generate new ideas for improving customer experiences online and in store, they are for staff rather than customers.

Myer’s e-commerce hub in Parramatta occupies 80 square metres of floor space once filled by categories such as cards and stationery, and is located at the foot of the escalators on the ground floor – making it highly visible and possibly the first port of call to shoppers.

“Everyone is talking about the fusion of physical and digital but no one is pinning down what this means,” said Mr Umbers. “Every retailer now needs to see digital as being part of their future – we’ve gone one step further and found a way of bringing digital into the footprint of the store.”

Myer plans to test the pilot e-commerce hub, which has been developed in association with Telstra, over the next few months before rolling out the most successful elements to other stores.

The cost of installing the hubs would depend on the scale of the rollout and the model may change, “but the core concept of us merging the physical and digital is something that will stay,” Mr Umbers said.

The hubs are expected to boost foot traffic and sales in store and online while reducing fulfillment costs, as online orders will be picked, packed and dispatched from the hubs.

“It encourages people to understand what’s good about department stores and with it comes increased traffic and engagement with our offer,” Mr Umbers said.

“Maybe some people had lost sight of some services we do have – by bringing them into one place and elevating the experiential nature we can create something with a new feel.”

Retail expert Brian Walker, from the Retail Doctor, said the digital hubs were “a good first start” towards delivering a seamless bricks and mortar, and online shopping experience.

“When technology and integration is done well it tends to have a very low profile,” Mr Walker said, citing overseas department stores such as Lane Crawford in Hong Kong. “That approach doesn’t sound low profile.”

Further details about the e-commerce hub will be released when Mr Umbers unveils his strategic plan later this year.

First published on the Sydney Morning Herald, 24 July 2015.

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