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GUEST COMMENT Flipping the script – maximising omni-channel to keep up with competition

Retailers are changing for the future

The landscape of retail and ecommerce is shifting as many significant traditional high street chains such as House of Fraser, Poundland & Mothercare close branches and in contrast ecommerce brands of all sizes, such as Amazon, Beerhawk, and Warby Parker, are flipping the script and now opening brick and mortar stores or showrooms.

Online sales are booming. Virtual pureplay eCommerce brands are getting physical as brand experience becomes more important. Retail is evolving to reflect the way today’s consumer wants to shop. Consumers want to buy what they want, when they want, from wherever they want, at a competitive price and then have it delivered as quickly as possible to a destination of their choice which could be a store through ‘click and collect’.

Retailers are adapting to this change in behaviour. Over recent years, the focus has been on growing the number of ways in which shoppers can buy by launching multiple channels and then improving the buying experience in each of them. However, single-channel shoppers are a dying breed, and it turns out that operating a multichannel business made up of separate channels is not efficient and rarely profitable.

The future of retail success depends on its ability to provide a completely seamless experience for shoppers regardless of how they engage with a brand. Given that customers may interact with brands via various screens, channels and technologies, building that seamless experience means looking for and eliminating breaks in the entire buyer journey including the post-purchase experience.

Some retailers say that ‘we are already doing omnichannel’, but it is clear to see that many are struggling to provide that consistent, high-quality customer experience from the store to digital that customers now expect. For example, Toys ‘R’ Us rolled out omnichannel strategies like click and collected, ship from store and had inventory visibility on their websites, however the experience was very complicated, disconnected and far from a smooth experience for the customer which didn’t enable the business to build brand loyalty, which many believe contributed significantly to its downfall.

On the other hand, Helly Hansen, the Norwegian outdoor wear brand, is an excellent example of a brand successfully implementing omnichannel strategies supported by comprehensive order management, inventory management and integrated customer service, to ensure that its customers experience the same service and shopping experience on-device as in-store. Its webshop includes 27 different sites, with a catalogue of 35,000 products per store, each with specific language options, payment methods, shipping rules, localised content and product availability.

Effective order management has helped ensure that each customer order syncs to the correct European or American Helly Hansen warehouse, therefore providing the same look and feel across all sites, and more importantly, earning the brand a 32% increase in ecommerce conversion.

Who survives and who fails will, therefore, be determined not just by how well retailers embrace digital, but how well they implement an omnichannel strategy. So how do retailers do this?

Think Local: Improve Upon What You Already Have

Creating an efficient and profitable omnichannel retail business is a complicated transition for any business and requires a thorough review of current practices and business goals. Before thinking about expanding operations in order to grow, retailers must first assess whether they are making the most efficient use out of their current resources, such as stock, order fulfilment and delivery processes. This can involve re-imagining the use of the store as both an essential part of the customer experience and as an integral component of order fulfilment, such as a ship-from-store solution. This can be tied together with a real-time optimised network of available inventory.

German brand, Gabor shoes, is the perfect example of how omnichannel can mean so much more when manufacturers and distributors work together both offline and online. Gabor has a range of products available online in addition to thousands of stockists and brick-and-mortar stores across Europe, which means that its stock is decentralised. In order to deliver a truly seamless customer experience, Gabor needed to translate its in-store experience to digital, but also to work with its retailers to create a revolutionary fulfilment and order management system.

In order to do this, Gabor utilised their data to create a centralised global inventory. Using this inventory, Gabor’s products are able to be smartly sourced for order fulfilment from any distribution hub. By turning stores, suppliers and its partners into mini-distribution centres, it allows them to not only make the most of all stock available but ensure the customers’ needs are always met. Ultimately, by involving retailers, Gabor has merged the online and offline experience and increased sales by up to 20%.

Ensure Consistent Pricing is Key

Most shoppers will look up products online before buying in store. But they don’t only use search engines, website and online store to research at home, but also to compare prices while in-store. Retailers cannot afford to lose sales simply because their systems mean that customers are being asked to pay differing final prices for no clear reason, depending on where they chose to make their transactions. A unified order management system will circumvent this problem, allowing prices to be standardised across the business.

Make the In-Store Experience a Digital Experience

Placing the power to access online services while in a physical store in the hands of the customer as well as store staff is one of the most straightforward ways of driving successful omnichannel commerce. Innovative retailers are introducing truly integrated digital platforms into the physical store through digital kiosks.

These can be used to view the complete range of products available to purchase but not available in store, offer stock checks, share online reviews or recommend related products which create a more personalised experience for the shopper. Retailers now have the capacity to never lose a sale, as they can offer the full online product catalogue within the store, and as a result, it’s proven that store profitability increases. Delivering these innovative experiences takes imagination and innovative technologies like ‘PWA and Headless eCommerce’, but it’s worth the effort. These solutions help nurture and retain brand loyalty as the customer experience becomes seamless between online and offline.

Author: Brian Green, director of EMEA, Magento

Image credit: Fotolia

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