In the past, retailing has concentrated the majority of its marketing efforts on finding customers. In the digital era, however, the focus has shifted to simply keeping up with them.
We can locate customers everywhere now—browsing in the store, logging onto the web, opening mobile apps, posting on social networks. But joining the conversation with these digitally connected customers – employing a true omnichannel approach – has been a challenge for many retail operations.
A recent survey by Pitney Bowes, for instance, found that 70 percent of retailers have not changed their strategies for engaging customers in the past three years or have made only a few alterations. Even more discouraging, nearly 40 percent of the retailers surveyed said they were new to digital, and an additional 34 percent were not involved in digital at all. Altogether, three-quarters of these retailers have been hesitant to adapt to the growing digital demands of customers.
The digital dilemma facing retailers becomes clear in a 2013 study by Retail Systems Research, which discovered that of 98 retailers surveyed, just over half felt that consumer expectations were outpacing their ability to deliver omnichannel experiences, and 48 percent continued to struggle with effectively integrating new omnichannel strategies and processes into the store.
The fact is that today’s customer knows as much about the products and services being offered in-store and online as the retailer does– and probably more. Baby Boomers, Gen Xers and Millennials alike are researching items, comparing prices, reviewing products, and gathering recommendations from other customers, all with the smartphones in their pockets or the tablets in their handbags. They tend to gravitate to the retailers that participate in the same array of channels that they do, that engage in omnichannel approaches that provide great experiences, meet customers’ rising expectations, and provide environments that stimulate customer loyalty.
It’s vital that your retail offerings become accessible across multiple avenues of shopping experiences that help customers interact with the brand online and in-store in a consistent way. Meeting this challenge can be complex, but a half dozen tips will help you begin claiming your spot in the digital channels that customers are embracing:
- Create a seamless, equivalent experience for the customer regardless of the channel. Aberdeen (News - Alert) Research defines this experience as the customer’s ability “to move freely between channels while receiving the same brand promise from a marketing, branding, merchandising and interaction standpoint.” Channels should complement and extend each other, rather than compete for the customer’s business.
- Invest in technology that provides a single, consistent view of your inventory across all channels. Your website and your store should not be considered as separate silos. Customers viewing an item on a smartphone should be able to see the same item in the shop, and any transaction must be able to be fulfilled at any location through whichever channel the customer prefers.
- Similarly, every piece of data about each customer should be kept in a record in a single database. The customer’s history online should be integrated with his or her in-store and mobile purchase history.
- Implement a commerce technology platform that not only manages inventory, fulfillment and customer experiences in every channel but also enables any sales associate, call center operator, or marketer to obtain the same complete picture of the customer’s preferences, experiences and likely future purchases.
- Equip your sales staff with tablets and smartphones that allow them to serve as a resource for customers regarding inventory and product features during the engagement process and even to complete transactions remotely in the store aisles. But don’t feel that you must abandon your current standalone point-of-sale technology. Your existing devices can be integrated so they are connected with each other and bring together the data you need.
- Consider technology that lets you track all those who have friended, followed, or liked your social media sites and that picks out those who are key influencers online. Rather than concentrating on customers who buy from you most frequently, focus on those influencers who are most likely to sway the opinions of others on social networks.
Racing to stay one pace ahead of your customers may seem to be an exhausting pursuit, but current technology can bring together all your customer data and inventory automatically so that, as customers interact more fully with your brand, you can engage with them more holistically based on a comprehensive view and an effective omnichannel strategy.
Corey Gale is director of marketing-retail and eCommerce for North America at MICROS Systems.
Edited by Maurice Nagle