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.

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.

5 Fundamental Benefits of Going Omni-channel

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While the debates about retail apocalypse and the demise of physical retail continue, one thing is for sure, these are merely exaggerations based on certain instances, as the big picture depicts otherwise. At this juncture there is one truth only – retail as a business is being re-imagined, re-invented and re-engineered and this is happening because of technology.

Technology has been the principal driver and the enabler of the retail revolution process, leading to the modern day retail scenario where omni-channel is the new norm. All this has been possible because technology has found its place in almost every aspect of retail – right from production to supply-chain to distribution to sales to post sales services. Moreover, it has also influenced various stages of the customer journey, consequentially leading to changes in consumers’ behavior and preferences.

Omni-channel is the offspring of technology. Omni-channel thrives on technology and this is one of the major reasons why, from being a mere buzzword about a decade ago, today it has become the ‘way of life’ for retail businesses and brands. Omni-channel fundamentally offers 5 highly desired abilities – reach, convenience, speed, collaboration and unified commerce.  And in-turn these abilities are the basic benefits of going omni-channel.

In order to be omni-channel ready, retail businesses must use multiple retail touch-points to interact and service their customers. Subsequently, adding more channels expands the horizon of the retail businesses and enables them to reach more customers, while customers on the other hand can reach and interact with their brands through multiple touch-points. With more than one channel to shop from, customers can use different channels during their shopping journey at their own convenience, and as for retailers, they can easily make use of the different channels to influence their consumer along the shopping process. Omni-channel also enables retail brands with speedy access to information related to inventory and customers as well as helps retailers to service customers faster, while customers can receive quick gratification of their purchases or move through the shopping process faster by switching between channels. Omni-channel essentially necessitates the integration of multiple channels, systems and processes, thus facilitating them to work in collaboration, in a way that enables unified commerce. This makes it possible for retailers to have a single version of the truth about their customer and inventory information across the business and also supports them to provide a seamless and unified experience to their customers.

While omni-channel is necessary, it has potentials that can really do wonders to the retail business and retailers must try to capitalize on this. Employing the right omni-channel retail software will help retailers become truly and holistically omni-channel and thereafter reap its benefits big time.

How unified commerce is unifying customer experiences

ETP blogpost 94 - Unified Commerce

Price and product are important parameters for customers to make decisions related to their preferred brands and have long been dominating the decision making process. But now, customer experience is the biggest differentiator for retail brands standing out. So much so that it has already overtaken price and product as the most sought after parameter for the customers. Thus competition amongst retailers on the customer experience front seems to be intensifying immensely. As reported by Gartner 89% of retail businesses are expected to compete mainly on customer experience. Howbeit, adding more customer touchpoints, retailers are finding it increasingly difficult to manage a harmonious customer experience across channels.

The need for a unified and seamless customer experience is profound in this new age of shopping. The lingering fear of customer churn owing to inconsistent shopping experiences, the probabilities of lost sales and loyalty shift to competitor brands are some of the major concerns that modern day retail businesses are battling against. One dependable solution that retailers must look to for emerging champions in the customer experience arena is ‘unified commerce’.

Going by an important statistic according to a Boston Retail Partners (BPR) report, more than 70% of retailers have plans to implement a unified commerce platform before the turn of the decade. Further, a definition of unified commerce by BPR states that ‘unified commerce places the customer experience as first priority by leveraging a single commerce platform. A single platform rids of internal channels that operate in their own silos. Instead, merchants leverage a “single, centralized, real-time platform for all customer engagement points.” In this way, unified commerce is achieved’.

Following the definition above, it is clear that ‘unified commerce’ relies on two fundamental aspects that are key for achieving a unified customer experience:
i) a single version of the data that is true
ii) the single version of the data available in real time

Deriving further the above aspects, no matter which channel is used by a retail brand for interaction with their customers, there should be a single true data regarding the products, prices, offers and so on for the customers consumption. So also, information related to the customer such as name, age, address, and purchase history amongst others must be a single version of the truth for the retailer to process.  When this data is shared in real-time and is accessible to the customer and retail business whenever, wherever, the result will be a seamless and unified customer experience.

Retailers have not only realized this but are also striving to make it a reality. However, this is still a pain point for many of them. Having the right technological capabilities by employing innovative and futureproof solutions such as ETP retail software can help retailers unify their customer experience across all channels.