So how are the nation’s retailers to meet this gap in expectations, when consumers demand speed, convenience and fulfilment at every touch-point? It is clear that shoppers now expect to hop between online and physical stores and have the same experience across every channel.
The solutions are available, they just need to be grasped.
Here are some tips for retailers still struggling:
1. Recognise that if you are to provide fulfilment, convenience and personalisation at every touch-point, you must have the software that joins all your separate systems together to give a consistent and personalised experience of stock-availability, wish-lists, baskets, pricing, promotions and offers across all channels.
The largest obstacle to this today is the continued use of bolted-on technology which fails to overcome the legacy of compartmentalisation. To overcome this, you must use a new breed of omni-channel solutions that enable legacy and business-critical systems to connect seamlessly by sharing data and logic across all channels.
The aim is to provide the 360-degree view of the customer that is now the essential underpinning of success in omni-channel retail. You need to understand customers’ product preferences, purchasing histories, preferred channels and how they interact with different types of promotion, to form a complete picture. Otherwise, how can you understand them and make personalised recommendations?
2. You must create new, more successful customer journeys across all your channels by implementing new technology tools to design and visualise customers’ journeys and securely connect all the technology components. This is how you can ensure that shoppers never experience difficulties and are always recognised when they move from one channel to another.
As well as understanding customers and designing frictionless journeys, it is important for a retailer to have the technology that allows it to react to changing preferences very quickly and to be capable of trying out new ideas and applying the lessons from them, so that consumers benefit at every touch-point.
3. Just as you need a single view of the customer, so you will need scalable technology to give you a single view of stock across all locations with intelligent sourcing rules to fulfill orders the most efficient way. Your stores can be become mini-fulfillment hubs, with staff picking, packing and dispatching items they have in stock. The UK fashion retailer Oasis, for example, has launched an online “seek and send” service in which the stock is sought from stores and then sent to the shopper. Effectively, this ability to fulfill orders using stock in almost any location is creating an “endless aisle”.
The upmarket clothing retailer Jaeger has also integrated stock fulfillment software that allows the company to manage stock pools from a single platform, with staff in stores doing the picking, packing and dispatching. It means orders from any channel can be fulfilled from the nearest location, speeding up delivery and adding a few touches of personalisation.
To achieve this, the retailer also needs a single view of orders to confirm their status in real time, as well as store task management. Stock-visibility is vital to meeting the promises that retailers make to their customers so that when a retailer says the goods will be in-store for collection at 2pm, they have to be there.
4. Reassess your entire approach to the point-of-sale (POS). It is vital that the basket always follows the shopper, across all channels and devices. This means that potential purchases will carry through from the web portal to the physical store and vice versa. You must, for example, allow the shopper to start a transaction on his or her phone, browse online and then pay for and collect the item in-store.
Your POS needs to understand where the stock is and how it can reach the shopper at the location of their choice, using the single view of stock across the organisation. Your POS technology must seamlessly support intelligent fulfilment, facilitating processes such as click-and-collect, ship-from-store, ship-to-store, reserve-and-try, along with other services to ensure the customer gets what they want, when they want it.
5. You must recognise the importance of having a centralised promotions engine that works perfectly across all your channels. It is this technology that enables an omni-channel POS solution to display the same personalised recommendations in-store as are used to tempt customers online or via email, and importantly, ensures the offers they receive are consistent and redeemable regardless of the shopping channel.
The promotions engine will also transform your loyalty scheme by integrating with your POS and your customer relationship data so that customers know immediately what their entitled to or eligible for. You can engage with your customers consistently across all your channels so that you are always offering rewards, increasing life-time value and driving retention.
Don’t underestimate the importance of loyalty. A famous name on the UK high street – HMV – has undergone a dramatically successful transformation, fuelled in large part by a powerful loyalty scheme that has been integrated with its CRM system. Customers gain an instant and accurate update on their points when they purchase, while HMV is able to build on its natural advantage as an entertainment retailer by offering exclusive access to exciting events and bespoke merchandise.
It will only be after giving serious consideration to these points that the country’s retailers can start to re-establish closer relationships with their customers in a time of changing demands. Then we can start to see the gap barometer percentages improve as customers feel better understood and appreciated.
Steve Thomas, CTO at Omnico Group