Even if retailers have been talking about investing in omni-channel for over a decade, many still lack basic omni-channel capabilities. For example, only 5 percent of retailers can successfully give consumers the ability to start and finish a sale in their preferred channel, Luxury Daily reports. But consumers aren’t waiting for retailers to get their act together. In the past year, almost 9 out of 10 (88%) shoppers have researched and selected options online before heading out to a store, the Ecommerce Foundation reports. And when in-store, Google reports, 50% of them turned to the internet: to research products they’ll then discuss with the sales staff, to remind themselves of what to buy, to see product specs, and more.
Retailers have no time to waste. They need to be where their customers are, with answers to their questions, smooth and simple shopping journeys, and timely information and support.
In your journey on improving your omni-channel strategy, here are seven points on which you should concentrate your efforts:
1. Be consistent with your branding
There’s nothing worse for an omni-channel brand than to offer a disconnected experience across the different channels.
Successful brands are consistent in both brand image (think color scheme, corporate story, style, products, voice) and quality of service (customer support, return policies, personalization, product suggestions) in-store, on their website, on the loyalty app and on social media.
International coffee company Nespresso is a great example of cohesive visual branding. The graphic design and color palette are kept consistent throughout the channels, and they function as a common thread that guides every step of the customer journey, from e-commerce website, to mobile app, to the confirmation e-mail customers receive after placing an order — all the way to the package that arrives to the customer’s doors.
If your offline presence is hip, youthful and colorful, but your app is dull and offers few options to interact with products; if you emphasize customer service, but then don’t respond timely (or don’t reply at all!) to customer queries on Twitter; if customers receive different information depending on which representative they contact – you will confuse and lose customers.
2. Unify the sales channels
Customers want to be able to see on your website whether the latest smartphone model is available in gold in a specific store. They want to go on your e-commerce, and add to their cart that art deco lamp they saw in your shop while they were on holiday. They want to send back at their convenience the too-tight shoes they bought in one of your store locations.
These are all common requests – and yet, too many retailers can’t fulfil them. That’s because many of them are still using separate best-of-breed, badly-integrated solutions. “Many retailers have pieced together disparate systems and processes to try and create a holistic shopping environment, but it really doesn’t provide what the customer is looking for,” says Kathleen Fischer, director of marketing at Boston Retail Partners, Boston. The result is
- Inability to see what products are available in real time – or where they are located;
- Inability to accept returns across channels;
- Risk of selling items that are not in stock;
- Inability to offer highly in-demand services like click & collect, ordering from store, or online inventory search.
The only way you can fulfil these demands is by implementing technology that gives you centralized visibility and control over your stock, locations and sales. A unified commerce platform like LS Central gives you the visibility you need to know how many items are still available and where they are located exactly, and lets you easily accept exchanges and returns across your whole retail network.
3. Be honest and clear
Research shows that seventy percent of online shoppers abandon their shopping cart before finalizing their purchase. The most common cause? Unclear or excessive shipping costs, which often become apparent too late in the buying process.
Successful retailers display their sales conditions in clear and visible format on their website. Take, for example, sportswear and outdoors retailer Transa. When you browse the product selection, the key sales conditions (delivery time, shipping costs, return conditions) are stated clearly next to each item. Buyers know the conditions of the sale before they have added an item to their cart, so they can make an informed decision early in the shopping journey.
To decrease the chance of shopping cart abandonment, create a relationship of trust with your customers, and be upfront about shipping prices and times, shipment restrictions and special conditions. You don’t want to tell a customer that their country is not eligible for delivery when they are ready to check out a full cart of products.
4. Let customers check product availability
According to Forrester research, 71 percent of customers expect to be able to see available inventory online. Leading retailers are taking note, and even taking it one step further: on its e-commerce website, IKEA lists where each item is available alongside the quantity left in stock in each store.
Even if you don’t want to go to such lengths, your product listing should at least:
- Be complete and updated. Customers should be able to see in which location the product they want is available, in their preferred variant. If you use a unified commerce system, you can maintain information in one database, and then distribute it to the e-commerce, POS and back office. This way, both staff and customers can access the same real-time data, and if the inventory changes, for example if an item is sold, this is instantly reflected on all touchpoints.
- Include detailed product information. When shopping for items online, customers don’t have the touch-and-feel element. Make up for it by including the item materials (or ingredients), any special care warnings, warranty information, and special return policies. If you stock similar products, you should ensure that you give enough information so consumers can make an informed choice. Better yet, include a comparison table.
- Feature clear, high-quality pictures. According to research by Field Agent, 83% of consumers believe product images are very important when selecting and purchasing a product. If you can, consider including videos: according to a survey by Wyzowl, 80% of people say that product videos give them more confidence when purchasing a product online. From showing details of the item, to tutorials to how-tos, there are a few options you can choose. Go for the format that will better resonate with your audience and provide them with the information they need to close the sale.
- Include product reviews. According to research by the National Retail Federation, 96% of shoppers read reviews on the retailers’ site, and a quarter of them say that reviews are the most influential factor in buying decisions, mattering more than price comparisons or advice from friends.
5. Put customer needs at the heart of your strategy
You can’t afford to wait for consumers to come to you. People spend most of their waking life with a computer in their hands: identify moments of opportunity in the customer journey, and make sure you are there at the right time.
Take, for example, American pharmacy and health care company CVS/Health. The company debuted a customer app that was designed to solve a common problem: manage complex medication schedules. On the app, customers can set up reminders to take medicines. The reminders can even be loaded onto an Apple watch. When they enter a CVS/Health pharmacy, a notification lets app users know if their medications are ready for pickup. This success of the app is due to it being designed to give consumers a useful service – not merely sell more.
Help consumers. Solve their problems. They will pay you back with their trust and business.
6. Use the data you collect
Every day, you collect an incredible wealth of data on you customers: what pages they visit on your e-commerce, what they add to the cart (and eventually buy, or leave behind), what items sell better where, which products are often returned, what’s most popular with your top customers, and more. Successful omni-channel retailers capture this data and turn it into action.
Take for example videogames chain GameStop International. GameStop runs a successful loyalty program with over 50 million members. By analyzing the customer data collected through the program, GameStop:
- Discovered that rewards don’t influence customer engagement. Instead, what makes the program valuable for customers are personalized communications and offers.
- Created hyper-targeted emails (which, for example, suggest to users what new games they could get by trading in their old ones, based on purchase history). This increased the open rate from 15% to 35%.
- Diversified their offering to include collectibles, a business that has become very valuable for the brand.
- As a result, expanded and diversified their customer base.
To achieve these insights and act on them, retailers need the data – but although necessary, data is not sufficient. Many retailers are still using systems made up of separate, integrated software solutions. This results in information silos, and data that is fragmented and hard to access. As a result, most companies have a lot of data, but only able to analyze a small part of it – barely 12%, according to Forrester research. The solution is a unified commerce system, a single platform that captures all of your consumers’ shopping behaviors, interests and purchase history. When data from all your channels is collected in one place, it is much simpler to link it and create a complete, 360-degree view of your customers.
Forward-thinking retailers are aligning messages, objectives, information and design across platforms – and ensuring that everything works together. As a result, they are redesigning the shopping journey as a seamless, all-encompassing experience.
Would you like to get there too, but don’t know where to begin? Contact us. Our experts will be happy to introduce you to the possibilities that unified retail tech opens.