It is time for retailers striving to be customer-centric to reconsider the role of their brick-and-mortar stores and in-store sales associates in-order to support the modern age context, immediacy, personalization, and information. The entire shopping journey experience needs to be seamless and a singular process where both the offline and online shopping must be extensions of each other. The concept “endless aisle” is one way of addressing this, where retailers place tablet kiosks at the end of aisles so shoppers can research and purchase products as they would do using their computers or mobile devices. This allows the consumers to access and order from a full catalog of available inventory, even those that are unavailable at the store.
Enabling a seamless, unified omni-channel experience must also extend to shopper interactions with store associates and customer service both online and in person. As shoppers expect store associates to be knowledgeable and informed, this translated to the need of associates’ ability to sell and assist the shoppers both online and offline. For example, store associates must know how to place an order and ship it to the customer if an item is out of stock in the store. And they must know how to check the online order status for a customer in the store.
Being cognizant of the fact that 37% of shoppers end up purchasing additional items when they are shopping for products in stores, a sales associate with accurate, updated information and history of each shopper can boost conversions, thus increasing the top line and helping retailers reduce markdowns on unsold inventory, both of which leads to higher revenues.
The execution of this process depends on aggregating omni-channel data and employing advanced analytics tools on the aggregated data to derive information about every shopper that can be used by the store staff. It mandates that retailers break down channel and department silos, align goals across channels, and encourage and incentivize employees to deliver on the omni-channel promise.
Also, giving shoppers visibility into the inventory can go a long way as customers expect not only to be able to view inventory available in-store and on the website but also the inventory number to be accurate real-time. The retailer’s challenge therefore is to display the inventory accurately including unit inaccuracy, shrinkage, and sales that day.
Needless to say, adopting new fulfillment methods and commerce approaches, including buy-online-pick-up-in-store (BOPIS), ship from store, buy-online-return-to-store, and save the sale, to name a few, is necessary. If an item is not available at a store, shoppers will be pleased when presented with a choice such as shipping from another store. Or shipping from the nearest store, when they are shopping online. The upside of taking an order online and shipping items from stores is the ability to lower in-stock inventory, decrease shipping costs and offer customers faster shipping. But achieving this goal requires solid planning and mapping stores to the online warehouse, which is only possible when leveraging fully integrated systems that offer cross-channel capabilities.
The right Order Management System can help companies make intelligent fulfillment decisions and streamline orders across channels to better serve customers while optimizing the use of inventory and reducing fulfillment costs for optimizing profits. Previously, inventory planning and replenishment were siloed: the sale began and ended in store (or online). Now the lines are blurred: the sale might start online but inventory might come from a physical store.
It goes without saying that an effective omni-channel environment is built upon integrated systems, departments and channels, with measurements and compensation that are aligned to support an omni-channel strategy and approach.
All of these changes require buy-in and leadership from the retail executive team. This team has to set the tone and expectation on service and training, focusing on all aspects of sales along with all customer touch points and their interconnectedness. And it all hinges upon ‘omni-channel’ being woven into the fabric of the retail organization.