Omni-Channel Retail: the Seamless Shopping Experience your Customers Expect
A shopper enters a men’s clothing store to buy pants. He’s 5”9’ and has a 30-32 inch inseam. However, like most stores, this one only keeps pants with 34” inseams in stock. All the pants have complicated cuffs which include slits, buttons, and pleats, so hemming is not an option. But instead of the shopper leaving the store in pursuit of other options, the sales person approaches him and leads him to a touch screen kiosk in the center of the room.
It’s a sleek object with legal-pad sized screens on four sides and an invitation to touch to begin. With the salesperson’s guidance, a couple of taps, and a swipe, the shopper has found three pairs of pants he likes through the store’s system. He selects his inseam, and swipes his credit card. The pants will arrive at his house tomorrow in the perfect size – a week faster than the alterations would have taken.
As he prepares to leave, he looks around and takes in the state of this revolutionary store. Instead of a sales counter, customers and sales staff research and ring-up from the kiosk. Salespeople carry additional smart devices and have phone buds in their ears to ensure the most effective communication. Everything the store offers is available at the touch of a button.
When mobile point-of-sale devices, actionable in-store digital content, a company website, and the supporting back-end systems are properly integrated, as it is in the above example, it is called omni-channel retail. This shopping experience has changed the way customers and retail employees think about shopping. As aging consoles and software are replaced, forward-thinking retailers will forgo islands of counters in favor of more merchandising space and sales associates focused on the customer experience. Leaders like Nordstrom, Target, and Apple have been the most obvious pioneers of these ideas. But you should expect to see others follow suit as solution providers such as Demandware and Magento develop tools to accommodate new business strategies.
Beyond improved customer service experience and increased merchandising space, omni-channel retail offers additional benefits to the savvy merchant. Unique inventory can be represented in every retail location. Data collected at the web level through browsing or wish lists can work its way into customer/salesperson interactions. Existing staff and workflows can be leveraged to accommodate digital order fulfillment allowing additional sales without additional costs. Finally, as seen in the case of Apple, properly integrated retail technology enhances the perceived competence of a company’s brand.
But, like every other potential advance in business, the secret is not in the technology but in how the people use it. The coolest and most advanced POS in the world will fail if the staff doesn’t embrace it. No customer will ever be reassured by a staffer who apologizes for systems or procedures. Your staff needs to be involved in development of the tools, trained in how to use them, and practiced in how to talk about them. In the past, “No, but…” may have been an acceptable answer. In the omni-channel world, the answer must be “Yes, and here is how.”
In our digital world, customers want to be able to shop wherever, whenever, and however they want. Retailers need to answer to their customers’ expectations by providing them with a seamless shopping experience they expect. Investing in omni-channel selling, and in turn, enabling the customer to take control of their shopping experience, is the key to having success in today’s retailing landscape.
Jennifer Conklin is a Senior Account Manager at LYONSCG, bringing over fifteen years of experience to the eCommerce implementation, support and digital strategy teams. Her background is in user experience design and web development. Jennifer graduated from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and resides in Chicago, where she enjoys running, playing with her children, and cheering on the Cubbies.