Omni-channel is not the future of retail — it's the present. To thrive in an omni-channel world, retailers need to look at the technological solutions that will allow them to drive growth, ensure customer satisfaction and control costs.
Just a few short years ago, omni-channel was touted as the future of retail. Well, that future is here, and it looks slightly different to what many imagined.
Yes, of course, many retailers — and manufacturers — are doing a greater percentage of their sales online. But at the same time, internet giants have turned to bricks-and-mortar retail too.
In late September this year, Amazon opened yet another bricks-and-mortar store. This store, in SoHo, New York City, sells a variety of products all rated four stars or more on the Amazon website. This is to be a permanent retail location, not a pop up. Furthermore, the company is reportedly considering plans to open as many as 3,000 cashierless Amazon Go stores across the US by 2021.
Another recent example is Birchbox. The beauty subscription service announced a partnership with Walgreens to build a Birchbox retail experience in selected stores in the US. The pilot kicks off this December in eleven locations.
At the same time, the venerable Macy's is looking to leverage technology to enhance the in-store shopping experience. This includes a mobile app which allows customers to scan and pay for items in-store. The company is also adding virtual reality and augmented reality technology in their furniture and beauty departments.
Customer Convenience is Key
A successful omni-channel strategy is one that puts customer convenience first. That means a customer should be able to switch between devices or modes of shopping over the course of a single transaction. Imagine this scenario. You are at home browsing for a new camera on your laptop. You find one you like and decide to buy it. Before you complete the transaction, your phone rings. You head into the kitchen as you talk, to make a cup of coffee. By the time you hang up, you seamlessly switch from your laptop to your phone to finish your purchase. Plus, the retailer offers you options: home delivery; after hours delivery; collect in-store or at a parcel facility.
A truly omni-channel experience allows a retailer to serve and track a customer from start to finish, across any channel. That includes all devices, as well as telephone calls, bricks-and-mortar, and delivery.
The Blurred Line Between Online and B+M Shopping
More and more of us are shopping online, but we still make the majority of our retail purchases in-store. Last year, online sales made up just under 9 percent of all retail sales. In the US, it was ten percent. China has the world’s most prolific online shoppers. In 2017, 17 percent of all retail purchases in China were online.
This may be a small percentage of retail sales, but it is growing — and will continue to grow. Perhaps more importantly, huge numbers of people shop online. Last year, 76 percent of people in the USA did so. Two-thirds of consumers in Europe did likewise, rising to 82 percent in the UK.
It is important to remember that the line between online and in-store shopping is not always clear cut. Customers do not necessarily use e-commerce by following a simple “search – select – buy” trajectory. Many use online platforms to research products before visiting a store. Most of us have done this, and for a variety of reasons. We may need be to speak to an expert beforehand. Sometimes the website is light on information and we feel unsure about the purchase. On other occasions, we may want to experience the “look and feel” before purchase. And sometimes we simply don’t want to wait for delivery.
It is not always possible for a bricks-and-mortar store to stock the full inventory of items listed on an e-commerce platform. But this is a source of aggravation for shoppers. Nearly half — 47 percent — of shoppers in the US have left stores frustrated because the item they wanted was not available.
There is a significant crossover between online and real world shoppers. Most shoppers do both. Therefore, a seamless omni-channel experience helps drive sales, return business and loyalty. Consider this: shoppers who use multiple channels to shop with you are demonstrating brand loyalty. Retailers should encourage that loyalty. It equates to 30 percent greater lifetime value than those who only shop a single channel, either in-store or online.
Keep Your Customers Happy — or Lose Them
Most customers, particularly those in large cities, expect to be able to get what they want, when they want it. That’s true whether they shop online or in-store. Retailers need to meet these expectations and offer multiple ways to shop. They must also must ensure that their online platforms offer enough information to complete the purchasing journey. In addition, it is important to optimize all online selling platforms for mobile. Furthermore, online channels should offer visibility into which products are available in-store and which can be shipped to store.
Once the purchase is complete, the retailer needs a variety of delivery options. Omni-channel doesn’t just refer to the shopping experience, it also refers to the delivery approach.
Not that long ago, a four to five day turnaround between order and delivery was perfectly acceptable. Two-day delivery is now expected across much of the world, but that’s changing. Same-day delivery looks set to become standard.
Retailers can lose sales at the final hurdle if their delivery options are not acceptable. Around half of all online shoppers have abandoned a basket because of poor delivery options. Let’s add another worrying statistic to that one. 39 percent of customers who have had a bad delivery experience won’t shop with that retailer again.
If same-day delivery becomes standard, and that seems likely, retailers need to be prepared. The ability to deliver efficiently but also cost-effectively is crucial. Therefore, delivery optimization should be a central part of any omni-channel strategy. Your needs depend on what you sell, where you ship, and where you may ship in future. However, your delivery optimization solution should include some or all of the following capabilities:
Delivery optimization allows retailers to:
Meet customers’ needs but control shipping costs
Increase delivery accuracy
Consolidate shipments and optimize routing to reduce costs
Compare carrier rates and service levels
Standardize shipping processes across stores & DCs
Gather data to support company-wide rates
Offer visibility and enhanced package tracking
Getting omni-channel right requires investment, in terms of time, money and planning. Not all retailers have the reach of Amazon or Walgreens. Nor do many have the capital to invest in in-store technologies like Macy’s. However, any retailer that sells online needs a strategy to ensure timely delivery and customer satisfaction. Equally important is the need to control costs. Optimizing deliveries ensures customer satisfaction and allows retailers to thrive in an omni-channel world.
About Precision Software – Trusted Global Trade and Transportation Execution
Precision Software, a division of QAD Inc., provides industry-leading global trade management, transportation execution and multi carrier shipping software solutions from a single, integrated platform. Preeminent industry leaders in every region of the world rely on Precision’s global support centers to leverage thousands of carriers and manage millions of shipping transactions every day. Our open architecture easily integrates with Enterprise Resource Planning, Warehouse Management Systems and legacy solutions. An ISO-certified company, Precision Software assists companies to minimize shipping costs, optimize first mile and last mile deliveries, automate free trade agreement compliance, avoid customs delays and mitigate the risks associated with dynamic trading environments to maximize their competitive advantage. Precision Software’s customers span multiple industries including banking and finance, life sciences, high technology, retail, industrial, automotive, higher education and public sector as well as logistics providers. For more information about Precision Software, visit www.precisionsoftware.com.