The difference between customer and company expectations is only becoming more pronounced in the age of e-commerce. For example, 55% of shoppers say their shopping experiences are somewhat disconnected as they switch between the online and in-store experience. Another study reports that 22% of North American retailers consider omnichannel experiences a top priority. That means that customers are noticing the disconnect, but retailers are failing to respond.
This should be a warning for retailers today. Digital shopping and e-commerce possibilities mean that retailers are, more often than not, spread across multiple touchpoints. Merging these touchpoints into one unified brand matters to the customer experience, yet many brands continue to get it wrong. Let’s explore why this matters and what retailers can do about it.
The customer is the channel
Take one look at industry blogs and you’ll start to notice buzzwords like multichannel, in-store, online, digital, physical. Really, what you’re left with is relatively simple: the customer. I am not suggesting that anyone ignore metrics and measurement of efficiency and profitability by sales channels. Merely, pointing out a truism: at the end of the day, meeting the customer with what they want, where they want to buy it, is the only thing that really matters.
For example, if a customer walks into a physical store, but can’t find what she is looking for, and isn’t engaged by an associate or the store experience itself, that’s a lost sale. And, it might be another lost sale the next time that customer is looking to order something online.
On the other hand, a well-trained, well-armed associate, with easy, real-time access to customer data and inventory can create an opportunity for a frictionless sale. It might not even matter what the item is or if it’s in stock. With the right system in place, the store associate can source -- either from a warehouse or another location -- what the customer wants. This employee can even suggest other items based on the customer’s in-store or online shopping history. Or, if it is a first-time shopper, create the customer record and capture data that will ensure each follow-up experience is excellent.
The advantage of data architecture
So, you’ve aligned customer data across online and offline channels and you’re using that data to drive a better experience. But you also need to be driving a great experience online as well. In the same way, a store salesperson would recommend products based on your historical preferences from all channels, your e-commerce site should do the same. If you have a “recommended products” feature on your site it should be informed by more than just online purchase history.
That 90/10 sales split of online/offline can go the other way, and your e-commerce system should know your customers as well as your stores do. In addition to targeted recommendations, customers also expect unification. They want to be able to access stock availability across the enterprise. If you don’t have the product in your warehouse but have it in stores, they want to buy online and pick up or ship from store. They want unified omnichannel gift cards and loyalty programs. And they want unified promotions and couponing.
It is this unification of offline and in-store customer data goes beyond just understanding the customer’s value. There are many inputs that help drive strong and consistent customer experience.
The next steps
Online and offline retail experiences are more important than ever to get right. According to Salesforce’s State of the Connected Customer report, 70% of consumers agree that technology makes it easier to switch between brands to find the perfect experience that matches their expectations. Further, a study by Harvard Business Review found that customers who engage with a brand across multiple channels spend more on every shopping occasion.
Ensuring this seamless transition between online and offline requires a holistic approach from the top-down - but it is possible to achieve. Brands and retailers must adopt platforms which capture customer data from any given touchpoint and sell accordingly. Armed with unified data across platforms, anything is possible. Aligning today with the wants and needs of customers is the only way to ensure success tomorrow.
As retailers put these systems and strategies into practice, it is important to remember the past 75 years of brand-building and retailing. More than anything else, the ups and downs have been driven by demographics, capital, technology, and opportunity. The brands and retailers that have maintained long-term success have done so by avoiding blind expansion based on dated assumptions. Instead, they have deliberately maintained operational flexibility, relentlessly tested new concepts, and remained steadfastly focused on “The Customer”. This style of strategy will continue to drive successful brands and retailers - regardless of what comes next.
-Slater Latour is the VP of Operations and Marketing at Springboard Retail, POS and Retail Management software that gives retailers the tools to thrive.