How retailers can strike the right balance between their online and offline stores
There are countless articles on the differences between eCommerce and brick-and-mortar, which one will bring the retail apocalypse, and which one is the future. It’s easy to be confused in a sea of back and forth – even merely reading the comments on some articles is a headache-inducing tennis game. But when the match is over, are they really all that different?
As Daniel Zhang, Alibaba chief executive, explains “You cannot just separate online and offline. Even when people are shopping in brick-and-mortar stores, they are on their phones. Literally on and offline simultaneously.”
So as both eCommerce and brick-and-mortar stores continue to play important roles in modern retail, the conversation needs to turn from one of the perceived differences, to how to flow across a fragmented world of online and physical customer interactions.
Omni-channel: The Emerging Retail Reality
As it evolves, digital retailing is quickly blurring the lines of buying channels – where customers are presented with a seamless shopping experience regardless where they are.
By definition (and in theory), omni-channel allows stores to interact with customers through various channels – websites, physical stores, social media, mobile, and more.
If online shopping has cast a shadow over traditional retailers, omni-channel is a ray of sunshine.
A Harvard Business Review study showed that in addition to having bigger shopping baskets, omni-channel shoppers are more loyal. After only six months experiencing omni-channel shopping, participants had logged 23 percent more repeat shopping trips to the retailer’s physical stores. They were also more likely to recommend the brand than those who used a single channel.
But success in omni-channel demands that retailers create great experiences for shoppers, including the use of intelligent customer identification tactics to make those experiences more personal.
Unfortunately, it’s the personal experience many omni-channel retailers are missing.
In fact, only 26 percent of consumers believed stores succeed at giving a consistent customer experience across all channels. According to shoppers, the worst offenders are the people-facing touchpoints.
That’s because – whilst retailers typically make big investments in systems to support omni-channel strategies – they frequently forget to spend time on the people side.
But there’s hope. Here are four definitive aspects to creating a consistent customer experience and balance your on- and offline stores.
Teams Should Work in Better Collaboration
A lot of retailers are categorised by different channels – for instance, online and store groups. Customers don't care about that. They want to be able to interact with you in any channel.
Collaboration between your offline and online channels is one of the most important driving forces for continued growth.
To increase the level of collaboration you must enable cross-channel features. This can be as simple as providing customers information on omni-channel support option or allow them to contact an in-store employee for assistance. You can also allow customers to reserve items online for purchase or pickup in store.
Experts estimate that digital information already influences a majority of store sales, and that number is growing rapidly. According to a report from Deloitte, 84 percent of buyers reach for devices before or during store visits. And this number is growing.
Soon it will be hard to define eCommerce.
“Is it an eCommerce sale if the customer goes to a store, finds that the product is out of stock, and uses an in-store terminal to have another location ship it to [their] home? What if the customer is shopping in one store, uses [their] smartphone to find a lower price at another, and then orders it online for in-store pickup? How about gifts that are ordered from a website but exchanged at a local store?”
Retailers are becoming more fragmented than ever before, resulting in a need for employees to collaborate in new, faster, and more effective ways.
Invest in Staff Training
If a customer makes the effort to shop in your store, the last thing they want is to be redirected online. And in an omni-channel world, associates must spend more time connecting with shoppers.
After all, the constantly connected consumer is more informed than ever before and any information a retail associate can provide is already available from their smartphone. They aren’t there to be sold to, they want and expect the storefront to tend to their personal needs.
If brick-and-mortar stores are the physical manifestation of eCommerce, then store associates are its customer support.
When a customer is online and needs assistance, a representative can see all relative data for that specific consumer – from purchase history to interests and preferences.
Shoppers expect the same when inside a store. They expect retail associates to have access to that very same information, using it to provide customised interactions.
In-store personalisation touch-points include both physical and digital elements, as well as points involving both technology and people in order to provide the best possible customer experience through personalisation.
However, retail employees say that communication bottlenecks negatively affect productivity and customer support. From not knowing how to handle the return of an online purchase to a lack of communication from head office on recently launched programs. These issues should not be ignored. When your staff is correctly trained, the store experience remains as convenient as the online experience.
Technology for Customer’s Unique Needs
In an omni-channel experience, it’s imperative retail employees have access to technology so they can equip themselves with the proper information and be accessible and efficient on the sales floor.
Armed with the proper technology, sales associates are provided with nearly infinite data about customers, as well as pricing and stock information. Sales assistants can provide educated, timely, and relevant guidance whilst knowing a customer’s purchase history.
This information should include customer order history in order to meet customer needs and exceed client expectations. Thus creating a highly personalised and memorable customer experience.
In fact, according to a study by Accenture, “75 percent of customers are more likely to buy from a retailer that is more personal” – either recognising them by name or providing relevant recommendations based on past purchases.
Personalising the shopping experience both increases brand loyalty and heightens the customer lifetime value. So be sure you’re leveraging the best technologies to help automate, scale, and deliver consistent cross-channel customer experiences.
Create a Consistent Culture
Successful omni-channel organisations spend a lot of attention on creating a unifying culture. Juggernauts like Facebook, eBay, and Google aim for a strong culture – where employees believe they are creating a better world. This engagement creates a sense of pride and a shared vision of success among employees.
Engaged employees are far less likely to change jobs if they are contributing, participating, and feel appreciated. This positive work environment also reduces churn among co-workers. Additionally, when employees care, they’re willing to go the extra mile.
Creating a culture where employees receive timely details – where they’re trained in sharing the message and feel comfortable providing information to head office – impacts the overall success of the organisation.
Additionally, by creating a consistent vision throughout all your channels, your approach to customer service remains the same both on and offline. Customers will notice this key differentiator and it will positively affect their brand loyalty.
Whilst the popularity of online shopping has soared over the past few years, the value of an offline presence hasn’t diminished.
As such, omni-channel integration is no longer a strategic advantage for a few store brands – it’s a competitive necessity for all.
After all, retailers are selling to the same people – just in different ways.