Moving from E-commerce to Omni-channel – Top 3 Challenges

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Changing customer expectations, advent of multiple channels of shopping and infusion of technology in retail have given rise to a new breed of shoppers today commonly known as ‘omni-channel shoppers’. These modern day retail shoppers are tech savvy and highly demanding, spoilt for choice and seek value for their money. And they will not want to associate with single channel retail brands as they constantly look for convenience and speed. So not only brick and mortar retail companies but online only e-commerce retail brands also have no choice but to migrate to omni-channel. However with e-commerce companies going for an omni-channel approach that integrates both offline and online retail, there are some challenges that these retailers need to be ready for.

Online-offline integration;
There are basically, two main channels for retail – online (which includes e-commerce, mobile, social media) and offline (which includes brick and mortar store, pop up stores). While integrating the online channels to work seamlessly would seem to be achievable due to similar nature of functionality, adding offline to this mix and looking to achieve a seamless integration can prove to be a daunting task as this calls for necessarily aligning every process and operation of the business to meet the omni-channel objective of unified customer experience. However, the good news is, by employing the right omni-channel for e-commerce software, retailers can achieve a seamless transition from a single channel and holistic omni-channel integration.

Customer and inventory management;
Online retailers generally provide the ‘buy online and ship to home’ fulfillment. However, when looking to go completely omni-channel from e-commerce, there are new fulfillment options that can be added such as buy online pick up in store, endless aisle, and so on. This calls for a seamless and accurate flow of customer and inventory information across all channels. Having a unified view of the inventory and single view of the customer across channel is necessary to handle multiple fulfillment options as well as planning and executing promotion campaigns and loyalty programs for customers across channels. Having a solid omni-channel retail software with CRM, promotions and inventory management capabilities can allow retailers to offer a unified omni-channel customer experience.

Supply chain and logistics management;
Moving from e-commerce to omni-channel though has benefits, it also poses multiple supply chain and logistics challenges. One of the biggest challenge for retailers while implementing an omni-channel process is ensuring product availability at the right channel at the right time and the right price. This is necessary for handling different engulfment options, so that customers can get gratification of their purchases as per their terms. Another challenge which is a necessity in this omni-channel age is reducing delivery time-frames. This again can be tackled by having the right product at the right place so that fulfillment centers are not too far away from the customers’ preferences of where they want to receive their purchases. With the help of a robust omni-channel retail solution encompassing supply chain management can ensure retailers succeed in their omni-channel business.

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.”

Why Retailers Need To Leverage The Power Of Social Media

The online world is nothing but a humungous super-complex web of connections that has made the communication process quick, easy and omni-dimensional. Social media has taken the process of communication through connection to the next level which is popularly referred to as engagement.

Social media is an integral part of people’s daily lives today. More and more people are getting onto various social media platforms each day to connect with their friends, peers and colleagues. In the last few years, people are also connecting with the brands they like and businesses that offer these brands through social media. Further, the usage is not just limited to connecting and communicating. Most people are also using it as a means to opine and review products or services and to express their thoughts, beliefs and experiences. In a way, these tools have given people a power to speak and be heard. As such, social media engagement has become a necessity in most customer facing businesses such as retail.

Retail today is more of a customer driven business. Most of the retailers and retail brands are aligning their business models and strategies to become more customer-centric by tailoring their products and services to suit the needs and demands of their customers. Those who haven’t done so, need to move in this direction swiftly or they will not be able to sustain and compete. However, this can only happen if the retailers know and understand their customers better. To gain these insights, retailers need to rely on appropriate technology. This is where social media can be leveraged to their benefit.

Retailers can use social media platforms to solicit feedback – both positive and negative, from customers. This provides valuable insights into the customers’ desires, enabling the retailers to better understand their customers’ expectations and try to exceed them through better customer experience and relationship management.

Retailers can not only listen to and monitor what their customers – both current and prospective, are talking about, but also they can engage directly using social media as a channel for establishing relationships with the customers. Furthermore, shoppers are increasingly using social media platforms to seek advice and recommendations about products to help them make better shopping decisions.

Retail brands and businesses can also make use of these platforms to pitch their products highlighting the features and benefits, to create awareness and provide essential information either through regular updates or advertisements on social media. Retailers can also plan customer-centric marketing campaigns and promote them on social media platforms to reach vast audiences in no time.

Nowadays, social media applications can also be used for shopping directly. With omni-channel retailing coming into play, social media becomes an essential channel for retailers to service customers. Yet, this is not all. Due to innovations in mobile technology, the rate at which people are getting onto social platforms like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+ and many others using handheld mobile devices is rising exponentially, making social media an extremely powerful medium.

Shopping Today Is A Highly Social Activity

Leveraging social media to enhance customer engagement
– Rudi Steffens
ETP blog social shopping

I am writing this as a father, husband and retail industry professional. Today, people are connected through several different mediums and channels and businesses are no different. The lines between personal and business connections are blurred and sometimes even non-existent.

Social media is the new super power of buying and selling. If I want to know about a product, I go online and in most cases use the social media portals. I don’t just want to know what my friends think about a product, I want to know what the world thinks! The more information I can get my hands on, the more informed choice I can make. I want to walk into a store, pay for my product and walk out. I can do all of this today because of social media.

Consider these facts from Internet Retailer’s Newly Released 2015 Social Media 500

The top 500 online merchants –

  • boosted their collective number of Facebook Likes 33% in 2014 to 915.7 million
  • grew their Twitter followings 26% to 88.6 million
  • increased their Pinterestfollowers 16% to 34.7 million
  • 78% more video views on YouTube for a total of 3.89 billion

Mobile technologies enable retailers to offer in-store discounts to shoppers who are checking prices online while at the store. Customers expect stores to have apps that help with aisle navigation, product location within the store and quick product pick-up. Video chats on smartphones in brick-and-mortar stores enable shoppers to have a live chat with product experts and not have to wait for a shop assistant to become available. Free in-store Wi-Fi encourages this updated shopping experience. The ongoing convergence of the in-store and online shopping experiences continue to present both a challenge and an opportunity for retailers. When it comes to embracing social selling, those with the right technologies in place to meet and even exceed the customers’ growing expectations are sure to be rewarded for their efforts.

The question is, what can the retailer do to make me come to them and purchase a product?

They could make my choice easy. I want to be proactively informed about new products which are linked to e-commerce and m-commerce channels. These mediums need to be user-friendly and should have my profile saved with the option to secure and save my payment options for quick checkouts. Remember my kids’ birthdays and remind me about Valentine’s Day. Know what I bought last time and recommend something new, based on my buying history and feedback. If I feel the offerings are curated as per my taste and desires, I am sure to come back for more.

Lastly, service with a smile and with value-driven choice.

The Omni Channel Connect

Your omni channel presence, and not just your product, makes or breaks your brand image today. Market reports estimate online and web-influenced retail sales (US) to reach $1.8 trillion by 2017, showing sustainable growth from the $1.3 trillion mark in 2013.

The Omni channel adoption and conversion will continue to grow as customers embrace emerging technology and its multiple access points. These same customers will expect even faster response time, regardless of how and when they connect with your store. The emergent ‘show rooming’ trend also shows us that consumers still wish to “go out shopping” and value quality brand experience within the retail store. The only difference is that the retail store needs to shed its physical limitations and further contact, communicate, engage and convert customers across multiple channels, as per their convenience. This strategy hits the mark in terms of keeping customers happy, increasing acquisition volumes and reaching closer to the projected business growth. For example, large brick and mortar retailers like Macy’s and Best Buy are adopting omni-channel technology to stay connected and relevant to their growing customer base. Macy’s encourages shoppers to scan products via the retailer’s mobile app while shopping in the stores. Its annual digital plan focuses heavily on mobile and seeks to “close the gap between store, desktop and mobile.” After Best Buy lost $1.2 billion during 2012, the world’s largest consumer electronics retailer looked like it was headed towards oblivion. Its turnaround happened post the decision to invest in omni-channel innovations that reached customers wherever they are—in a store, online or via their phones—and use technology to turn costly physical stores into an advantage.

ETP blog Omni-channel

The advantages of Omni channel are many but the most prominent of the same are as follows:

Brand Connect – Technology has intertwined with our lives and formed the core of how we relate to things and people, including brands. Most of us are always online and “connected” through smart mobile devices. According to Forrester Research, mobile payments will amount to nearly $90 billion in the coming years. This is largely due to the fact that an impactful omni presence will help brands capture the most coveted real estate in retail – the customer’s mind. According to global reports, mobile phone penetration will rise up to 69.4% of the global population, in 2017. As smartphones and tablets continue to become cheaper and 3G and 4G networks more approachable with enhanced security, mobile wallets and captivating additions like wearable technology and new age applications etc. the hyper speed upward trajectory of m-commerce shall remain on track.

Social Network – The above point lends itself to the social network invasion. When brands create an engaging niche for themselves in the popular social networks, they gain much more than possible customer conversions. This platform has become a dialogue center between companies or brands and the enormous and growing number of people on the network. Companies are exposed to real-time problems, perceptions and potential of their products, programs and services. This is invaluable first-hand data that not only bolsters their databanks but also helps retailers with insights unblemished by process churns. The right steps undertaken thus to create a better brand experience shall result in favorable reviews and improved brand equity. Positive word-of-mouth will also lead to desired revenue generation and customer loyalty.

Target Marketing – Omni channel marketing allows highly targeted approach towards introducing brand products, services and company USPs, inducing interest to understand and then buy or recognize the same. Business Intelligence and integrated CRM technology provides retailers the information regarding customers and prospects preferences, needs and desires. Analytical computing takes into consideration various factors like socio-economic and demographical components to fine-tune the learnings. Now that you have the ‘what’, Omni channel paves the next step with the ‘how’ at this juncture. How do we personalize our offerings through the marketing channels most frequented to encourage or incite positive buying behavior? This customized experience is becoming the norm in both B2B and B2C enterprises where the marketing strategies are created to implant a familiar and relationship based communication with customers, prospect and suspects.

The crystal ball shows Omni-channel technology to carry on putting enterprises on the map and level the global playing field of retail.