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5 Basics of Omni-Channel Retail

Despite the rapid growth of omni-channel, many retailers are still failing to implement the basic features today’s consumers expect. And those who fail to get omni-channel right early are going to have a hard time catching up as such trends become the norm.

This was the message from Peter Sheldon, Principal Analyst at Forrester Research, who told attendees at the Shopatron Client Summit 2013 that while omni-channel commerce is very exciting, “We’re just scratching the surface.”

Sheldon reiterated several times that customer expectations are transforming. They want speed, but more importantly, they want rich product information and convenient delivery options. He explained that success in omni-channel experience depends on three things:

1. Customer facing operational excellence
2. Marketing and customer database management
3. Organizational structure

“The customer doesn’t live in channels,” Sheldon said. “So you need to bring all of that data together.”

Here are Sheldon’s “Five Basics of Omni-Channel.” As you read on, ask yourself: Am I able to compete with these trendsetters?

1. Buy online, pick up in store

Consumer expectations are fundamentally changing. They now prefer the convenience of in-store pickup options more than fast shipping. The ability to order online and pick up in store is no longer a novelty for consumers, but rather, they expect this option and they expect it to be a seamless experience. For example, Future Shop in Canada offers guaranteed pickup in 20 minutes, and the pickup location is located in a convenient booth outside of the main store.

2. “My account”

You may think in terms of channels, but your customers don’t. Today, success is tied directly to your ability to link channels and remove any hurtles that might dissuade shoppers. This means providing customers with a single account that allows them to jump from one channel to another with the same login information. Sheldon explained that Delta Air Lines offers its customers a single account that allows them to access their flight information, bonus miles, and other important data across all devices. Failure to do so could frustrate customers and force them to search out more convenient alternatives from competing brands.

3. Store Inventory Visibility

Shoppers want assurance that their time won’t be wasted. Whether they’re browsing an online catalog, or considering a trip to the store to make an in-store pickup, consumers need reassurance that their purchase won’t be placed on backorder. According to Sheldon, “the reason the consumer wants to buy online and pick up in store is not because they want to go to the store, it’s the convenience.” When your consumers aren’t sure of inventory availability, chances are they’re going to buy from a competitor who guarantees their order will be fulfilled when and how they want it. Toys"R"Us, for example, provides inventory transparency across channels and touchpoints, ensuring that their customers never have to worry whether they’re shopping on a desktop, tablet, or smartphone.

4. Associate ordering

Your customers are armed with smartphones and tablets that give them a wealth of information on the products in stores. Do your employees have the same tools? Sheldon explained that there’s a “huge disconnect” because the consumer is empowered but often, “the employee is not on a level playing field.” While offering mobile POS devices helps bridge this gap, be aware that if and when you decide to level the playing field, your customers will have higher expectations: 65% expect that employees are able to check prices, and 55% expect that employees can look up inventory when the shelf is empty.

5. Kiosks

The touchscreen has led to a resurgence of the in-store kiosk. While kiosks have historically been clunky for shoppers, the digital revolution has led to sophisticated in-store displays that consumers want to use. Audi, for example, has created a digital showroom in London that only houses one physical car. The rest is accomplished via touchscreens and a large interactive display that allow car buyers to customize features and paint colors to their hearts’ content. Keep this in mind: As more brands roll out eye-catching interactive displays, how do your products look by comparison?

This is the new normal of eCommerce and omni-channel. Do you have the tools to compete?

For more photos of Peter Sheldon at the Shopatron Allied Commerce Summit, visit the Shopatron Facebook page.

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