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Here, there and everywhere: why operational consistency is vital


Whether they’re interacting in the store, online or via mobile, customers expect consistency – but are retailers delivering it? Tim Koshinsky, VP Solutions at ‘Commerce Anywhere’ solutions provider OLR Retail, explains why customer satisfaction lies in creating a consistent service in all channels, not just a common face.
“It may not seem sexy, but consistency is the secret ingredient to making customers happy,” remarked analyst McKinsey and Company in a recent report – a mantra that sounds so simple on paper, yet is eluding many retail businesses.

Thanks to omnichannel evolution, creating consistent customer experiences has never been more challenging. In today’s multi-channel, multi-device shopping environment, most retailers are still trying to distil a complex network of interactions and transactions into a single, cohesive and reliable service.

For those who are on the road to achieving this consistency, success levels vary from department to department. As an example, many retailers have accomplished the task of creating a global brand identity, and now have a common appearance in all channels. Unfortunately, however, in many cases the same cannot be said about their logistical capabilities.

No matter how beautiful the brand’s face, what consumers crave most is great service, regardless of channel. They want the same availability of information and products, so that they can choose in their own terms, where and when they want to make a purchase, and how it will be picked-up or delivered.

It seems simple from the shopper’s perspective, but executing such demands requires incredible sophistication within retailers’ product availability and fulfilment capabilities. For starters, with thousands of orders flooding in from multiple channel sources, complete inventory visibility is critical to effectively manage every transaction.

Equally, it’s impossible to manage the allocation and replenishment of stock without integrating activity in all channels. Many retailers still operate in data siloes, which leaves them at risk of draining resources in one channel to supply another – collaboration is essential for moving as seamlessly between orders as consumers move between channels.

There also needs to be a degree of flexibility within retailers’ supply chain solutions, to cope with increased demand in certain channels, and to adapt to increased demand at peak trading times. It’s a very pertinent time of the year to be discussing logistical consistency, as Christmas is often the point when out-of-date systems and siloed processes are exposed.

The 2014 holiday trading period is placing greater pressure than ever on retailers’ operations; shoppers have a choice of fulfilment methods – buy direct from store, buy online for home delivery, buy online for store collection, buy online for locker collection; the race for quick delivery has intensified pressure on companies to offer next day services, even on orders placed during the previous evening; and the growing popularity of early promotions such as Black Friday and Cyber Monday is generating activity spikes at the start of the month, alongside increasing orders closer to Christmas Day.

In this situation, a great festive ad campaign is the icing on the cake. The raw ingredients for successful omnichannel retail are integrated operations, inventory visibility throughout the enterprise, demand forecasting and replenishment planning. These are the tools which ensure, when the moment arrives, that consumers are able to buy the goods they want in a convenient manner.

Retailers without this effective operational solution may find themselves unable to deliver on customer expectations consistently, which makes it difficult to build trusting relationships. At Christmas time in particular, the stakes are high; an unfulfilled or late delivery can have an enormous – and lasting – emotional impact.

After all, in today’s fiercely competitive retail environment, consumers whose demands aren’t met are likely to look elsewhere for a retailer they can trust to deliver at every touch point.

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