From past to present to future, retail is going to be about ‘location’

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Traditionally, the retail industry has been focused on selling products that have been produced and in order to be able to sell those products, it was necessary for retail marketers to follow the principles of the AIDA model. In other words, they had to draw attention of consumers towards new products in the market and spike their interest in those products by various methods. Their very next move was to cultivate that interest into a desire for the product and then drive consumers towards taking an action, in most cases, purchasing the product and thus completing the sale for the business.

Times have changed and the traditional model of retail has undergone a massive disruption where the focus has moved from selling to understanding and then fulfilling the needs of the customer. The retail industry of today has the customer in the driver’s seat, and for retailers it is all about getting to know the customers’ desire better and create products and services that are able to satisfy those needs. Having said that, the basic principles of marketing in retail – attention, interest, desire and action, still hold good but the context of application of these principles may have changed since the modern day customers are mostly aware and attuned to what they want and generally from where they are going to purchase their products or receive the service(s) they seek.

While the retail industry has treaded this journey from a traditional being to what we call as omni-channel retail in the modern day world, there is one factor that principally, still has a formidable impact on the success of any retail business. And that is ‘location’. Let’s deep dive into this conundrum.

Again going back to the past, while the retail market was product/service oriented, the essentiality of getting these to be noticed by customers compelled retailers to look for the best location to station their offerings, generally a busy place where prospective customers usually frequented. And this importance on the physical location is still a foothold for most retail brands who are running their brick-and-mortar stores. Because, in spite of the rise of e-commerce and mobile commerce, most consumers still prefer to shop at stores and many stats have proven this fact.

Now that’s just one aspect in the context of the location where in the physical location plays an essential part in the success of the retail business. Today, retail is about omni-channel and about unified commerce, and the customer is at the epicenter of the business. The rat race to win the customer is on and the location factor plays an important role to win this race. However, here is where the other aspect in the context of the location comes handy. Taking some cues from the past, getting the products/services to where the customers are is still the right thing to do. But with the advent of the internet and mobile devices and social media, the customer has now become the location as he/she is all over. So today, it is not only about the physical presence, but also the virtual or online presence of the retail brands and moreover, the presence in the right places and channels that’s what is extremely critical. Getting the right product at the right time at the right price is necessary but also at the right place is more than half the battle won. The remaining bit is getting the right message/communication across at the right time and through the right channels or mediums to the customer will enable retailers to have maximum impact and stand out from the rest, to seal the deal with their end customers.

The 3 I Mantra for New Age Retail

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The retail industry has been a trendsetter in adopting technology and digitization. As a result, the industry has been revolutionized by the disruptions caused due to the influence of advanced technologies. In fact, the evolution of the retail industry still continues as businesses and consumers collaborate over trade to further influence the need for progressive transformation.

As the power is now in the hands of the consumers, they are driving retail businesses to constantly strive towards not only focusing on the customer, but also conceptualizing and creating experiences that customers can relish and cherish. Be it brick-and-mortar or e-commerce retail companies, every business is looking to capture a large chunk of the customers’ attention and wallet. As a consequence, the competition has intensified leading to a situation where retailers have only one way out – perform or perish. In order to stay in the game, retailers must look at the 3 I mantra: integration, intelligence and innovation.

Integration: Today’s shoppers are not ordinary shoppers, they are a new breed of shoppers who demand convenience and want speed. Moreover, they want to be associated with retail brands that are tech savvy like them and have more than one channel for interacting and shopping. These new breed of shoppers are ‘omni-channel’ shoppers. Thus retailers need to integrate their channels, operations and processes to be able to provide that omni-channel shopping experience that can leave a mark on the customer.

Intelligence: Again drawing inspiration from the customers, retail businesses need to be ready and prepared for their customer who is equipped with information that allows them to make smart and better decisions. In order to better understand the customer, retail companies must capture as much data as possible about their customer and have the data about their product and service offerings along with the knowledge of their operations and processes. Having this comprehensive information, retail owners must derive the intelligence from the data and use it to enhance their business.

Innovation: Every modern day consumer is attracted to new advancements that happen in the market – be it products, services or offerings. The lesson to learn from this is that retail brands must constantly seek to innovate. They must always look out for new ways to create shopping experiences that are unique and innovative. Using innovation – right from production to packaging and marketing of the products, to sales and post sales services, throughout the entire shopping experience will definitely appeal to consumers and will make them crave for more.

Retail businesses seeking to do something new and unique in their space must equip their business with the right retail technology that enables integration, provides intelligence and aids innovation.

How omni-channel enables frictionless retail

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Picture this – a young, tech-savvy and discerning shopper wants to buy a mobile phone. She researches on the internet for the latest and best phones in the market. Overwhelmed with options during her research, she realizes and determines her needs and the configuration that will best suit them and then refines her search for the phone. She picks a few options of phones of different brands and variants. While on the way back from office the next day, she drops by a mobile store and checks out the phones she had picked earlier and a few others as well which interest her while at the store With all the information at her disposal, she zeros down on the phone she wants to buy but decides to wait. Her desire to buy the phone fizzles down however she comes across advertisements of offers going on for the phones she had considered earlier and this spikes her interest again. The next day she selects the best offer and places an order for the mobile phone through her own hand-held device and chooses to collect it from a near buy store within 24 hours of ordering, get her used devise exchanged and make the payment at the store. While she goes to pick-up and pay at the store she stumbles upon a set of headphones which she likes instantly and decides to bundle that with her phone purchase, hands-over her used phone, makes the payment and walks out with the new product.

Above mentioned is one of the many scenarios of the complicated shopping process that involve different permutations and combinations of the various stages of the shopping journey intermingled with the various retail channels customers can use to interact and shop. Moreover there is a whole set of operations and systems that need to be running at the back-end to support such complex, dynamic and comprehensive shopping processes. One of the biggest challenge for retailers’ of today, in the age where ‘customer is king’, lies in tying these channels, systems and operations together, in a way that the entire retail shopping process becomes friction-less  and retail brands are able to deliver a seamless experience to their customers. To counter this challenge there is one sure shot solution and that is ‘omni-channel’.

Omni-channel essentially necessitates that the different channels not only be connected, but also integrated. In order to accomplish this, various systems and operations must therefore be integrated in a manner that enables the systems and processes and the channels to work as a cohesive unit. Further the data and information flow across the various processes must be streamlined in a way that the there is one single version of the truth and a uniform representation of the brand across all the channels. In other words, accurate and real-time inventory and customer information must be accessible and available across the business operations and processes and channels. Having said that, it also must be easy to manage all these systems, operations and information centrally for better control and risk mitigation. When all this is achieved, it will lead to unified commerce where the customers can enjoy seamless experiences due to friction-less operations and processes.

Therefore it is necessary for retail brands who are looking to not only strike the right chord with their customers and improve their operations, but also planning to scale up their operations or add more products/channels or even expand in other geographies, to select an omni-channel retail software partner who has the domain expertise and is trusted by market leaders.

Four Pillars of Retail Customer Experience

In this day and age of omni-channel, retail is all about the customer. What the customer needs and demands, how do they research and shop, which channels do they use to interact, what is their opinion about brands and products, what are their interests and preferences, which demographic segment do they belong to, what influences their purchasing, and so on – these are the questions retailers need to seek answers to, so that they are able to understand and serve their customers better. Additionally, since the consumer behavior is dynamic and so is the retail business, the same answers may not hold true every time. Thus there is a need for the retail companies to put in constant efforts so as to be able to keep pace with their consumers’ changing demands.

In order to be able to service their customers to the best of their abilities, retail brands must have a holistic approach in strategizing, conceptualizing, creating and offering experiences that can impress their customers. As such, the shopping experiences must be positive and enriching. There are 4 essential pillars of retail customer experience – personal, mobile, seamless and secure, that retailers need to focus on for optimal results.

Below is an infographic that illuminates the importance of these 4 pillars with some industry statistics that retailers need to pay attention to.

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This festive shopping is going Omni-channel

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The Singles’ Day shopping extravaganza would not have become a huge phenomenon nor would it have been a record-breaking event had it not been for disruption technology such as omni-channel. That’s not all. As per a survey, 81 percent of holiday season shoppers use up to six channels to make their purchases for the festive season. These are significant numbers and must not be overlooked. All these are clear and straight-forward indications that omni-channel is the best step for retail businesses in the right direction during the upcoming Christmas shopping season.

It would not be an understatement to state that ‘for most retail businesses and other entities ‘omni-channel’ should be their go to strategy this festive season. What this implies is, retail owners need to channelize their efforts in delivering a unified omni-channel customer experience throughout the shoppers’ journey right from research through purchase to returns. Enabling omni-channel fulfillment options like click-and-collect, endless aisle, click-and-deliver, drop shipping and so on would definitely help the cause. To make it more impressive, adding new and innovative options such as ‘reserve online, try in-store’ or ‘book online, pay in-store’, could not only pave the way for retailers to have an edge above their competitors, but also prove to be ‘deal clinchers’. Going the extra mile, omni-channel returns also need to be taken seriously. While handling returns the right way should be a priority for brands, they need to improvise on the way returns are accepted so as to make it easier and faster for the end customer. For example, retail companies can provide customers with kiosks at malls and stores for returns.

To be able to do all of the above, retailers need to get these 4 fundamentals right:
– Making their business customer focused or customer-centric
– Integrating all channels (processes, operations, systems) seamlessly
– Having a consistent branding across all channels
– Enabling accurate, real-time information accessibility wherever necessary

Offering a unified omni-channel experience and the challenges of getting that right should be top of mind for retailers looking to bolster their sales this Christmas and New Year. However, retailers who are determined to get their fundamentals right to the ‘T’ as well as adopt forward looking, innovative omni-channel retail solutions could emerge trailblazers in the festive shopping arena.

Omni-channel Success: Engaging with customers in a consistent, personalized way across all channels

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Retailers will be able to deliver the ultimate customer experience across all retail touch points every time, when they are able to have a single view of their customers, irrespective of the channels. For this, retailers will have to stop focusing on the channels and instead start concentrating on how to deliver the right omni-channel experience to every individual customer. They will need to stop treating online stores and physical stores as two separate entities. If the marketing communication and messaging are not consistent or personalized across all channels, the shopping experience will also be fragmented and suboptimal.

Delivering a superior, personalized omni-channel experience pivots upon merging the information retail owners get from online/mobile with the in-store customer behavior. As a preemptive measure, retailers must take cognizance of the fact that omni-channel shoppers switch between channels at will and choose whatever is most convenient and effective at that instant. It is at this juncture that retailers need to get their act right by making that experience feel cohesive while making sure that the messaging is consistent and personalized at every touch point. This demands a unification of customer interactions across all retail channels, which banks upon having a single unified view of the customer.

To be able to gain that single view of the customer, retail businesses must be capable of assimilating all the data available at their disposal, which includes shoppers’ online behavior and browsing history, in-store and online purchases, preferred products and modes of payment, to name a few. Since this data has to be derived from multiple sources, it is essential that retail businesses be equipped with fully integrated retail management systems. Also, they need to tap into the power of advanced analytics to make sense of the enormous amount of information coming through the systems and unify it so they can deliver the personalized brand experiences that today’s customers expect.

With the help of the unified data, retail companies can offer personalized shopping experiences with content that is targeted and tailored for the individual customer and is not channel based. Armed with this knowledge about the customer along with intelligent CRM integrated point of sale (POS) systems that display shopper profiles, in-store sales associates can recommend products, suggest relevant cross-sells, and even save the sale if an item is out of stock at that time. Similarly, online stores can offer recommendations to shoppers while they are researching or purchasing to aid them in their decision making and drive them to make the purchase and sometimes achieve up-sells. Hence, engaging in a consistent, personalized way across all channels will help retail businesses achieve omni-channel success.

Omni-channel Success: Bridging gap between customer expectations and omni-channel retail execution

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New age shoppers are connected, digitally savvy, always-on and at will, switch between channels while shopping. They expect retail brands to understand them better. After all, they are well aware that retailers these days are capable of capturing data – from customer details to how, when, what and where they make their purchases, and also what they are researching online. In other words, customers know that retailers can use the data to formulate an idea of their interests and motivators for purchase. As a result, customers’ expectations have gone beyond mere transactions. However, retailers today are falling short when it comes to satisfying consumer expectations for personalized, relevant shopping experiences.

While 69% of companies said they offer a superior online experience, 51% customers left a company that failed them online. Further, 81% companies said that they have or are close to having a holistic view of their customers, only 37% of consumers agreed to the fact that their preferred retail brand actually understands them. These statistics clearly highlight the gap between customer expectations and retail businesses’ understanding and execution.

How can retailers start to offer a seamless customer experience across channels and rise above the customer expectations?

In order to successfully implement seamless and personalized omni-channel shopping experiences, retailers require a single 360 degree view of their customer. Simply put, retailers need to have comprehensive information about their customers – their details, buying behavior, preferred channels, and so on. Not only this, the data should be handy with retail organizations to proactively plan and implement relevant offers and communications. This is possible only when the brand becomes truly customer-centric and leverages the information gathered to understand their omni-channel customer better.

By investing in the right omni-channel retail technology, retail businesses and brands have abundant opportunities to know their customers and engage with them, no matter which channel the customers prefer.

360-degree view of the customer in omni-channel retail

Customers may use various retail touch points to purchase products and to contact a company for service and support. Companies can get a complete view of their customers by aggregating data from such touch points to acquire a 360-degree view of the customer.

Technologies such as mobile devices, online communities, social media platforms, and more, has resulted in a boom in the number of touch points for customer interaction. Without the right tools, this can pose a serious challenge in aggregating the data from the many diverse interactions that the customers may have across channels.

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Nowadays, retail businesses can employ an increasing assortment of tools to obtain a 360-degree customer view to gather customer information – social media listening tools to listen to what customers are saying on various social media sites, predictive analytics tools to determine what customers may research or purchase next, customer relationship management suites to track the customers’ buying history and to reward them, and marketing automation software to offer a seamless, unified omni-channel shopping experience to the customers. Such software should have the ability and the interface to integrate with other applications to enable data sharing and attain a cohesive, up-to-date, accurate view of customers in the real-time.

The 360-degree view of customers also often requires a big data analytics strategy to marry structured data, or data that can reside in the rows and columns of a database, with unstructured data as it resides on social media platforms and so forth is becoming increasingly important.

Focus on the Consumer, not the Channel

Mono-channel retail and the digital shopper are yesteryear. Today’s consumer is a 360° omni-shopper who researches for and makes her purchases from all angles, as she considers an quickening set of content, payment methods and offers.

Retailers and manufacturers alike must cease to focus on an exclusive channel. In fact, their target must not be the channel, but the master of multiple channels: the omni-shopper. The retailer who does so intelligently will know where to place the next bait. Because the consumer is already looking around and in all probability, is already a step ahead.

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