With digital technology changing almost all aspects of our lives, it's not surprising that traditional retailing is being turned on its head. The familiar model that funnels customers along a linear path to buying is giving way to an exciting new paradigm of placing the individual at the center of a unified field of purchasing touchpoints. So-called omnichannel, or unified retail, promises a seamless experience across a host of coordinated options for customer-retailer interactions, including online, in-store, social, mobile, kiosk and call center.
The key to delivering on unified retail’s promise is to align front-end, customer-facing aspects with all the back-end, behind-the-scenes business processes.
Prepare for the Plunge: Planning and Forecasting
Successful unified retail requires careful planning and smart forecasting. A good start is listening to social media to determine consumer trends and choices. Knowing where consumers are heading puts you on the path to understanding required products, volumes and categories based on channels, regions and categories.
With unified retail, retailers must grasp what and how much goes where and when. Additional planning considerations touch on physical plant and staffing. What should your retail spaces look like under a model offering online purchasing and drop-shipping? As for your people, do they have the mind-set and skills to support unified at all levels? How do you train existing staff to acquire the necessary skills?
Management is a second key component. Since with unified retail, orders can come from anywhere, managing orders to ensure prompt, efficient fulfillment presents challenges, especially when multiple and/or volatile products are involved (e.g., perishable groceries). Processing orders from whatever the touchpoint, determining product location, and delivering a product from the most efficient source (it costs to bring it in from a far-off warehouse) are all involved. In fact, managing orders for prompt fulfillment touches on everything from logistics to inventory, planning to sales, product information management to pricing, and supplier purchase order management to invoice management. Management of warehouses and inventories also comes into play. Different volumes are involved, requiring different product allocations, replenishments, delivery and fulfillment. For unified retail to thrive, inventory and warehouse management must be optimized by leveraging the most advanced digital tools and systems.
Optimize Your Processes
Meeting customer expectations for a unified retail approach requires evolved buying and selling processes.
Generating and disseminating consistent information is essential. Moving goods from distributors or manufacturers to end customers across all touchpoints depends on making reliable data available. Information on products, inventory, the customer, the order and the price must move along the delivery chain without variation or confusion. In fact, incorrect or incomplete content on a brand’s website has stopped 97 percent of online shoppers from completing a purchase, according to Episerver.
One last key to successful buying and moving in a unified retail environment stands out: choosing the right partners. Do the distributors, wholesalers and manufacturers you partner with now and, more importantly, plan to partner with, understand the needs and workings of unified retail? There are many questions you need to ask in making partnership decisions.
Deliver the Promise
With unified retail, the past is no sure guide. Marketing and selling have to be pursued on new terms.
- Unified Customer: As customers take the lead in determining how to interact with retailers and brands, retailers are facing rising expectations. Increasingly, delivering the goods means bringing a single, unified view of the customer to multichannel. With consistency across channels, new possibilities arise for deploying personalized and segmented offers and services that drive loyalty. Customer relationship management systems, personalization engines, marketing automation tools and loyalty programs all have a role to play.
- ‘Searchandising’: Merchandising in the emerging new era of unified retail is quickly moving far beyond the old considerations of where and how products can be shown to advantage on in-store shelves. The action is increasingly focused on online searchability, particularly in association with the use of mobile and voice recognition. Understanding customer needs and behaviors as well as the language they typically use is essential to ensuring search results meet search requests optimally.
- The New Store: The new store cannot be the same as the old store. To meet the evolving service expectations of tech-savvy and mobile-equipped consumers, stores must integrate the right advanced tools for understanding needs, optimizing selection and enhancing product information. The new store may not even need to exist as a conventional point of sale; it can be a social platform or marketplace, a pop-up at an event, or an automated kiosk in a mall.
Only when implemented at every step of the retail business value chain can unified retail deliver on providing seamless buying experiences, empowering customers, and driving operational efficiencies.
Kais Makhlouf is vice president of digital solutions at Thinkmax Consulting, a consulting firm that designs and deploys innovative technological solutions for businesses.
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