The opportunities to create an engaging retail experience


Gone are the days where retail used to be treated as a transactional business where in retailers sold the products to consumers who came to their stores to buy those and the mutual give and take of the product and the cost was the be all and end all. It has all changed now. While the transaction is still integral, it is just one of the many processes that make the retail business the way it is today.

A shopper not only buys a product from a retail brand, he/she wants to interact and engage with brand across certain stages of the shopping journey which has evolved into a complex, multi-dimensional journey that shoppers embark upon when they want to buy a product. This complexity has come in due to the influence of technology into the retail sector leading to substantial shifts in the shopping behaviour. The point to focus is not on the complexity but the opportunities that retailers have to connect with their end customers.

Consider this scenario – a shopper intends to purchase a mobile phone. So he decides to research about the options and varieties online on the website of his preferred retail brand. He is not happy with the options so he decides to further research on a market place online. Having shortlisted the devices that he could consider to buy, he visits multiple stores to check out the devices, to have an experience of their look-and-feel. Still not convinced of which one to go with, he goes onto social media and seeks opinions. Moreover, he also checks out information portals that review products.

Now, the above shopping journey is an incomplete one since the purchase has not happened yet, however it is interesting to note the number of times the shopper has interacted with the brand through multiple touch-points. From a retailer’s point-of-view, these are indeed the opportunities for the brand to interact and engage with the customer. The above scenario is one of the complex shopping journeys and the complexity can further increase along with the number of touch-points that can be used throughout the entire shopping journey. Again, these are multiple opportunities that retail brands have to interact and engage with the customer and create the impact.

To sum up, as shopping behaviour has evolved, it has provided ample opportunities for retail companies to go beyond the traditional concepts of retailing. Rather, this evolution has enabled brands to meet and greet their customers across multiple stages and touch points of their shopping journey. Ultimately, customers prefer an engaging experience and those brands who will be able to offer that kind of an experience will thrive.

Omni-channel Success: Mobilizing stores to serve omni-channel customers

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.