Online shopping is in its golden years. For businesses having an online retail presence since the internet was barely able to crawl, one thing remains unchanged: customers expect both online and offline and one should complement the other.
Multi-Channel does not Equal Omni-Channel
However, businesses that already have a multi-channel approach often confuse this with providing their customers a full omni-channel experience. Properly implemented, this should experience should include:
- The ability for store staff to look up previous customer purchases and search results when browsing the website.
- To provide the same level of customer assistance online – via Live Chat so customers can expect face-to-face or on the telephone.
- Offer customers the ability to check stock of items at their local store before making the trip into town.
- Offer customers the ability to pay for their item on their PC or mobile device before store pick-up at a location of their choosing.
These solutions have to link seamlessly – even the smallest independent boutique is capable of an impressive and responsive online presence, even if that’s only a Facebook page or Instagram feed to sell their services or keep in touch more intimately with customers.
There isn’t a single aspect of offline shopping that doesn’t feel the weight of expectation from our online purchasing experience. Those expectations are pretty high too. A recent study of European and US retailers and shoppers alike carried out by Forrester showed the following:
- Nearly three-quarters of customers expect to be able to see stock online before they make an in-store purchase.
- Half of customers who purchase online expect to have the option to pick up in-store to have their product straight away and not wait for shipping.
- Two-thirds of customers expect store assistants to have mobile devices with them for immediate stock-checks and product information.
- The competitive advantage offered to retailers who adopt an omni-channel approach is great – and yet of those surveyed, only one-third had even put the basics of online inventory and in-store pickup in place.
Learn more about the in-store experience and just exactly what your customers expect, read this post from 100TB.
Retail in general must follow the lead of global names:
However, there are a few global names who are not just getting it right, but leading from the front and setting the benchmark for those that will follow. Their global reach means customers expect omni-channel retail services for all purchases, not just major ones. Therefore, the pressure is definitely on for all retailers, no matter who they are. Two of those global success stories are US-based, and worth examining in a little detail to see what omni-channel best practice looks like:
It’s probably no surprise that the tech giant is out in front. The online Apple store and the physical retail units have been well-integrated in terms of customer experience for some years, with customers able to book Genius Bar appointments in high street stores through the mobile app. The service doesn’t stop with being able to make the appointment, either; customers receive alerts on their phones to inform them when customer service technicians are free to help, and Apple mobile devices will even sense when customers are near stores, and send them alerts relevant to their current or past purchases.
Leading the charge for food and drink retailers is the coffee chain, who now allow customers to both order and pay ahead through the mobile phone app, before they enter a physical store. In a hurry? That’s no problem either. The app will not only give directions to the nearest store, but an accurate estimate of how long the customer will have to wait for their order once they arrive. Through registering a card with the app, the customer can bypass the physical store ordering process altogether.
UK is Lagging Behind the Rest
The UK is currently well behind global competitors, with only around a third of high street names offering even the most basic multichannel services. Only home and leisure giant, Argos, offers the full package, with stock-checking and online purchase with in store pick-up, allied with online Live Chat and store finder capability.
In June 2016, PCR spoke to 31 UK retailers with 100 or more physical stores about their omni-channel policy, finding that they needed to do more to meet the high expectations of “digitally-savvy” customers. In the same article, Terry Hunter of Astound Commerce stated that UK retailers have to get behind the need to operate physical and online channels alongside each other to deliver what customers not only want, but have come to expect.
South East Asia offers better integration of the retail experience
It isn’t just the US and European markets that are offering better integration between mobile and high street shopping; the South East Asian retail market is a particularly enthusiastic adopter. In an interview with Anand Mehta of Motorola Solutions in Retail in Asia, he referred to this as the post-PC era, with always-on mobile connectivity meaning that sales aren’t restricted to opening hours.
It is not a competition between online and offline; a strong and well-managed strategy integrates the two so that one feeds the other. Shopping suddenly adds value in a way that it hasn’t before. Physical stores become traditional points of contact for consumers wishing to have human interaction, or to experience the product before purchase – even though their initial decision-making process may have begun online. Mehta also noted that Asian retailers with an existing global presence were already likely to have developed an effective strategy. The future of the omnichannel strategy was likely to be integral to any retailer keen to personalise their interactions with their customers.
What’s next for retail?
The real measure of future development will be how much extra value the retailer is keen to deliver to their customers. Although a fully-optimized digital presence costs money to put in place, there is considerable value to be gained for the retailer that stays ahead of the curve, and puts that extra content in place. In a business environment where a competitor in another country – let alone the next street – could have the same product with the customer in a matter of days, the pressure to add that value is intense.
The key is with the shopper; examining their behaviour will show patterns that dictate what buyers want. A combination of apps delivering deals and offers combined with an attractive store presence is within the reach of everyone – from independent boutique to global force. Where will you be?