3 Important Differentiators for Retail Brands to Stay Ahead of the Competition

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The retail markets across the globe are becoming increasingly competitive for 2 major reasons. On the one hand technology has disrupted the industry in multiple ways and on the other hand customers shopping behaviors have changed dramatically. Additionally, both these factors are influencing each other to further pose more challenges and create opportunities for retail businesses. In this intensely competitive scenario, retail brands need to differentiate themselves so that they emerge winners.

Below are 3 important factors that can help retail brands differentiate themselves:

Supply chain – Simply put, getting the customer what they want and where they want it is a serious concerns for most retailers as the complexity of processes and operations increase with the different channels and random ways the customer goes about shopping and ordering products. New omni-channel fulfillment options such as click and collect or BOPIS, endless aisles, reserve online and pick-up in-store, and a few other combinations have emerged over the last couple of years. Moreover, same day delivery, drone delivery, collection from preferred location, anywhere returns, and so on, have also come to the fore lately. Offering these fulfillment options requires retailers to have a solid supply chain system that can reduce the chances of stock-outs, damages and other potential risks. Thus it is important for retailers to focus on the supply chain and use technology to optimize it so that there is a smooth flow of the product from manufacturing to the consumer.

Customer relationship – As stated earlier, technology has influenced the shopper. Customers today are more informed and demanding than about a decade ago. In addition to that, they are spoilt for choice thanks to the variety in products, different channels of shopping, payment methods and accessibility to information. The customers are on the driving seats and retail brands need to be ready to fulfill the demands of the customer on their terms. This will be possible only if companies keep their customers at the focal point in the business. They will have to build deep and long lasting relationships with the customer and take appropriate efforts to understand and know their customers’ preferences. Using technology to capture and analyze customer related data and with proper customer segmentation and profiling, retailers will be able to design and create tailored offerings to the customers in terms of products and related services.

Marketing and branding – It is a no brainer that if retailers are not able to get their marketing right, they won’t be able to click. Retail companies are pumping in huge investments and efforts into their marketing and branding strategies and execution. But with so much noise around it is difficult to get noticed. In order to stand out, retail brands must adopt for a unity in diversity approach. Firstly have uniform branding and messaging, secondly identify platforms where their customers are most likely to be and thirdly promoting the brand message across these platforms will help retailers reach the desired audience with higher chance of conversions. Taking this to the next level by designing and creating offers and promotions that are hyper personalized, localized and unique will have customers wanting for more. As customer attention spans are small, retailers need to get their act together and render the maximum impact in a short time.

How Click-and-collect can help boost your retail business (video)

Omni-channel retailing enables retail brands to expand their presence as it removes the dependence on a single channel and allows the use of multiple channels to interact with their customers as well as sell products. ‘Click-and-collect’ or ‘Buy online pick up in store (BOPIS)’ is a powerful omni-channel fulfillment option that is gaining popularity, globally. The below video illuminates some of its important benefits.

ETP Omni-channel Retail Software Solutions provide you with features such as ‘Click and collect’ enabling you to deliver a unified brand-customer relationship across all channels.

What’s on retailers’ minds for 2018?

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At the NRF Big Show 2018, retail executives and leaders share the areas they are going to focus on this year. Here are a few things they are working on:

1) Retailers will continue to strive for providing more personalized digital experiences.

When asked for views, executives from Macy’s, Neiman Marcus Group and The Children’s Place clearly stated that personalization would be a big focus for them in 2018. Macy’s is continuing to focus on personalization according to an executive, “The whole concept of personalization is simply on steroids right now. It’s all about the consumer in that one moment in time. We’re doing anything we can do to connect directly with consumers and make shopping convenient for them.”

Retailers have worked on improving personalization for many years but it all boils down to customer experience. As such, providing great customer experiences in 2018 will be the result of blending technology with a more personalized touch.

2) Connecting online and offline store experiences will remain a major focus.

Leading retailers such as Macy’s and The Children’s Place are still fervent on ‘omni-channel retail’. Macy’s is continuing to see serious growth in the area of “buy online, pick up in store” (BOPIS). Macy’s executive stated that “physical stores are not going away. Customers will always want the option of coming into the store to try on jeans instead of buying three different sizes online.”

The Children’s Place is also striving towards making it big in digital and using a lot of the omni-channel use cases like BOPIS and ‘Save the Sale’. ‘Save the Sale’ needs store associates to be able to access real-time inventory across the store network. This enables the store associates to address the situation of stock-out and lost sales by helping customers to find their desired item online or at another store location with ease.

3) More retailers will look to leverage voice assistants.

Global Chief eCommerce Officer at Samsonite feels that voice assistants will start taking off in certain categories like consumables. However, categories like fashion may have a harder time to leverage voice. 1-800-Flowers.com having been one of the first retailers to launch an Alexa skill, the CEO & President believes that bots and AI capabilities will enable 1-800-Flowers.com to amplify its personalized experience. He envisions the possibilities, “With voice as the main interface emerging, I think it will bring us back to the retail experience of our first flower shop where we delivered a true 1-to-1 relationship. Voice enables us to have a 1-to-1 relationship with customers on a massive scale.”

4) As artificial intelligence (AI) matures, AI-powered retail applications are gaining adoption.

According to the Global Chief eCommerce Officer at Samsonite, 2018 will be the year that artificial intelligence will have its breakthrough moment. Retailers will start using it to power various parts of the retail and eCommerce experience. 1-800-Flowers.com uses AI to power conversational interfaces like Alexa, Google Assistant and Facebook Messenger, many of which need no human touch at all.

Using AI and its applications in various aspects of retail, retailers are looking to boost their businesses and enhance customer experiences.

5) Personalization, social media and Amazon Marketing Services will be used as acquisition marketing strategies.

The Children’s Place highlighted the importance of personalized marketing strategies. Its personalization strategy began in 2017 when the company hired a data scientist to clean up the customer database. Now that The Children’s Place can connect customer purchases online and in-store, the executive believes that it will aid in making acquisition, engagement and retention strategies more personal,.

Social media also seems to be one of the top marketing priorities for the CEO of Petco. On the flip side, Global Chief eCommerce Officer at Samsonite believes, “Amazon Marketing is going to become as critical to a brand’s marketing strategy as Google and Facebook. Today, Amazon has the return on investment potential of Google Paid Search in 2005 and display ads in 2002.”

Unifying the customer experience during this festive shopping season

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With Black Friday and Cyber Monday – presumably, the biggest days for shopping right around the corner, it is one of the best times of the year for two main reasons – the festive season is very near and the festive shopping gets going in full swing. Retail companies looking to ring in higher festive shopping sales this year need to get a few basic things right for the festive shopping such as their display, merchandise, promotions and so on. Having said that, it is the age of omni-channel retailing and as such, brands must also look to leap ahead in their game, in order to deliver the unified omni-channel customer experience that shoppers would be expecting during this festive shopping season.

‘Click and Collect’ or ‘Buy Online Pick up In-store (BOPIS)’ is one of the revolutionary omni-channel retailing techniques that retail businesses can adopt into their strategies and operations to cater to  festive shoppers’ expectations. As the name ‘Click and Collect’ suggests, the concept is that shoppers can make their purchases online and then opt to collect the products at their desired ‘brick and mortar’ stores. This way, shoppers can use both online and offline channels at their convenience to shop and to receive gratification of their purchases. As per a recent survey, 58% of shoppers will use a buy online, pick up in-store (BOPIS) fulfillment option for their holiday shopping this year. The benefits are multifold. For shoppers, it is the ease and convenience of shopping so that they may avoid the need to look for products at the stores during the festive rush and eliminating the wait time due to shipping. For retailers, it is the enhancement of their brand presence both online and offline, and the opportunity to ‘cross sell’ and ‘up sell’. This could be both online through suggestions and offers, and offline when the shoppers come to collect their products at the store. ‘Click and collect’ or ‘BOPIS’ can therefore enable retailers to offer a seamless omni-channel customer experience during their festive shopping.

Another technique or strategy that retail businesses can employ this festive season to increase sales and boost customer loyalty across channels is ‘endless aisle’. An omni-channel concept, ‘endless aisle’ fundamentally enables shoppers to shop online for products that are not available at that brick and mortar retail store, with the help of handheld devices or kiosks that populate additional product assortments/options through e-commerce sites. The best part is, this can be done right from the store. So a shopper looking to buy a particular product but unable to locate it at the store, can still buy that product from the online portal at the store. This helps eliminate the risk of lost sales for retailers and the frustration for shoppers during out of stock situations. Moreover, it saves shoppers the effort to look for the product elsewhere and thus enhances their experience and trust in the retail brand, cementing the brand-customer relationship. Like ‘Click and Collect’, even ‘endless aisle’ involves both offline and online channels thus empowering retailers to deliver a unified customer experience across channels.

Why should retailers consider ‘Click-and-Collect’?

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Shopping online or through a mobile phone these days is very common and every day more and more consumers engage with retail brands through these channels during their shopping journey. Having an omni-channel driven retail business is therefore essential.

Omni-channel retail entails a combination of channels used by the shoppers to research, buy and return products. And while there are multiple permutations of these channels that shoppers can choose from, ‘Click-and-collect’ or ‘Buy online, pickup in store’ is one combination that retailers need to take advantage of and here’s why.

To start with, ‘click-and-collect’ is a customer-centric approach which allows convenience of shopping. It makes it easy to browse and purchase products, and gets rid of the waiting time for shipping and delivery of the order.

‘Click-and-collect’ marries the advantages of online/app based shopping with the advantages of the brick-and-mortar stores. It allows a shopper to purchase a product online quickly and conveniently and allows them to touch and feel the product live at the store. For retailers, this translates to getting traffic and conversions on their online sites or mobile apps as well as increasing footfalls in the store.

‘Click-and-collect’ also presents opportunities for retailers to cross-sell and up-sell, thus driving higher sales. According to ICSC, 69 percent of customers who went to pick up their orders in-store ended up buying additional items. Thus, retailers can take advantage of this technique by persuading shoppers to buy more while they are at the store to pick up their order; especially during the shopping seasons or when impulse shoppers visit the store.

Since ‘Click-and-collect’ requires both online/mobile and brick-and-mortar stores to complement each other, it provides an edge for such retailers over those who are purely e-commerce players. Retailers must not miss out on this opportunity which will ensure more share of the customers’ attention time and eventually more share of the consumers’ wallets.

As shoppers these days are savvy and demanding, they expect the best experience. ‘Buy online pickup in-store’ is one way retailers with the right omni-channel retail solutions can provide a seamless and superior cross-channel shopping experience, which customers will cherish and come back for more.