Fulfilling the Omnichannel Shopping Imperative

The omnichannel approach to customer contact has become a byword in customer service, but retailers need to do more to make it happen, based on a recent study from Kibo.

Researchers tested 57 metrics across desktop, mobile and in-store buying touchpoints to evaluate the end-to-end omnichannel experience at 30 popular and growing retailers.

They focused on four major categories: fulfillment and inventory; personalization; pricing consistency; and in-store signage.

The State of the Omnichannel Experience

Among the study’s conclusions:

  • 87 percent of retailers provided a product locator on their website that indicated whether an item was in-stock or available;
  • Only 35 percent displayed the quantity of inventory available;
  • Ninety-seven percent of store associates could access inventory levels, but only 33 percent were equipped with handheld or mobile technology to do so;
  • Only 25 percent of store associates could place an order for a customer; of those, 92 percent had to do it at a register or customer service counter, and not in an aisle;
  • Sixteen percent of retailers had inconsistent pricing between their e-commerce site and their brick-and-mortar locations;
  • Only 60 percent of retailers showed website visitors their recently viewed items;
  • Only 53 percent of study participants could show personalized recommendations without the customer signing into the store’s account.

Competing With E-Commerce

Here’s the problem: E-commerce absolutely is killing brick-and-mortar stores, and Amazon, in particular, has taken personalization to a high degree. Change is vital for retailers.

“More than 1,000 stores went away in 2016, and 10 to 12 percent of shopping malls will simply go away this year, because they can’t compete effectively with etail,” observed Michael Jude, a research manager at Stratecast/Frost & Sullivan. “It’s appalling.”

Nationwide, between 20 percent and 25 percent of shopping malls will undergo change, predicted Brian Andrus, president of the Florida Gulfcoast Commercial Association of Realtors.

They will “either close completely, close and reopen with a change in tenants and in property upgrades, or be demolished and change into a different type of retail component — including new entertainment, movie houses and so on,” he told CRM Buyer.

“Or they’ll be demolished and change in use to warehousing or apartments or condos and so on,” Andrus continued.

Consumers’ shopping habits — going online instead of to a brick-and-mortar store — “play a huge part” in the devolution of the shopping mall, he noted.

Embarking on the Omnichannel Journey

Kibo’s study recommends that retailers take the following steps:

  • Invest in machine learning technology to better personalize customer experiences;
  • Deliver an in-store experience that matches the best of technology with strong associate support;
  • Allow access to inventory across the enterprise with the ability to place an order efficiently;
  • Have an awareness of pricing models internally and competitively; and
  • Provide customer service access that answers questions in a timely fashion whenever and wherever required.

Enabling store associates to place orders on the spot will beat out developing in-house apps.

“We found that most people are going ahead and buying what they’re looking at in the store after checking it out on the Web,” Jude told CRM Buyer. “What doesn’t seem to be happening is people using applications provided by the retailers to do their shopping.”

Sell the Experience, Not the Product

Brick-and-mortar retailers “have lost the war for online commerce because they can’t match the scope and scale of online players like Amazon,” Jude remarked.

Retailers have to use the same sort of data that etailers use, but provide a customized sales experience if they wish to survive, he suggested.

“If you base your approach on how quickly and cheaply you can process a transaction, you’re doomed if you’re going up against an etailer,” Jude said. “Retailers have to sell an experience — like the Cheers experience, where everybody knows your name.”

Some retailers already have developed facial recognition technology. When customers walk into their stores, they are recognized, and sales associates address them by name.

“That lets customers deal with human beings, not machines — and people like dealing with human beings,” Jude said.

This approach will require retailers to redesign their supply chain, inventory control and other processes, Jude pointed out — and, most importantly, hire staff for their emotional intelligence, or EQ.

Richard Adhikari

Richard Adhikari has been an ECT News Network reporter since 2008. His areas of focus include cybersecurity, mobile technologies, CRM, databases, software development, mainframe and mid-range computing, and application development. He has written and edited for numerous publications, including Information Week and Computerworld. He is the author of two books on client/server technology. Email Richard.

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