Must-Have Strategies and Technologies for Omnichannel Retailers
We’re living in the “Age of the Customer,” as Forrester Research is calling it, where customers are empowered by the internet and their mobile devices to demand an unprecedented level of service. At the very least, today’s consumers expect the stores they buy from to have a responsive, easy-to-navigate website; omnichannel presence; seamless mobile payment process; social presence; great customer service; fast delivery; and effortless returns. Not to mention, those same customers expect to have this same seamless experience replicated across all the top online marketplaces and sales channels they regularly frequent.
To conquer the challenges and opportunities of connected commerce, businesses must develop a dual approach that enables them to provide a seamless front-end customer experience by also implementing fully integrated supporting technologies on the back end.
Cultivating an Omnichannel Customer Experience
Crafting a truly seamless omnichannel experience requires a mix of marketing and UX (user experience) design elements. Not only does your online brand experience need to be responsive, interactive and easy to navigate, it also needs to be consistent, clear and clever enough to cut through the clutter and reach customers at the right place at the right time.
- Master mobile. Gartner predicts that by 2017, U.S. customers’ mobile engagement behavior will drive mobile commerce revenue in the U.S. to 50 percent of U.S. digital commerce revenue. Omnichannel retailers must optimize for mobile search, enable mobile payments, experiment with mobile advertisements and even create mobile applications to attract and engage customers.
- Expand into multiple sales channels. Stitch Labs data has shown that small to midsized retailers have increased their revenue 38 percent by selling on a single marketplace (e.g., Amazon.com, eBay, Etsy) in addition to their branded website. And by simply expanding to a second marketplace, online retailers can grow their revenue by an estimated 120 percent.
- Secure online payments. All retailers know the importance of building trust with customers, and nothing is more important to customers than the safety of their financial information. One way to demonstrate that you’re taking the proper steps to secure customers’ data is to add an SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) authentication to your e-commerce site, which helps to secure web visitors’ data and communications by establishing an encrypted link between the web server and browser. Security-conscious shoppers will be on the lookout for the https web signal that indicates these SSL certificates are in place, and will be more likely to input their credit card information upon seeing them.
- Communicate shipping and delivery information. When it comes to providing a superior online customer experience, communication is key. By continually providing up-to-date tracking information via emails, in-app messages, social media and/or text communications, companies can keep their customers informed of their order status to balance expectations — and excitement — for their purchases’ arrival.
- Become social savvy. Connected consumers are constantly on sites like Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and YouTube discussing, researching and sharing information (and opinions) about brands and products. And now they’re even able to buy directly from their favorite social platforms — Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest all have buy button features.
- Perfect personalization and customization. To replace the “personal touch” of in-store experiences and add a new dimension to customer engagement, companies must leverage evolving digital marketing capabilities to cater specific content, communications and experiences to each particular customer.
As connected technology continues to evolve and new platforms emerge, businesses need to keep their fingers on the pulse of where and how customers are finding and interacting with their brand. To more easily develop the seamless customer experience shoppers want, there are essential back-end tools and technologies businesses must implement to automate, integrate and support their front-end omnichannel efforts.
Supporting the Demands of Digital Disruption
Inventory is the lifeline of any retail business, and how it’s managed can make or break a company. U.S. companies have an estimated $1.1 trillion in working capital tied up in inventory, proving what a difficult challenge it is for retailers to balance having enough stock on-hand to meet demand, while also avoiding having too much unsold stock that takes up valuable capital and storage resources for months on end. In fact, the combined impact of overstocks, out-of-stocks and returns typically cost retailers 11.7 percent of their annual revenue.
By adopting integrated, cloud-based inventory management software, businesses can easily and accurately track stock across multiple sales channels from purchase orders and sales invoices to shipping and fulfillment. Top inventory control systems automatically sync with e-commerce platforms and tools, providing a centralized and fully connected command center to proactively streamline, manage and analyze retail operations.
A major advantage to having integrated e-commerce platforms is unified analytics. Knowledge is power, but when the data that can provide that knowledge are scattered amongst disparate systems, the power of that data is greatly diminished. Businesses need to integrate back-end and front-end systems with comprehensive technologies and business intelligence tools to more easily understand consumer behavior and how their own processes are functioning.
Conquering Connected Commerce
The number of available connected technologies are still only on the brink of exploding upon consumers, and companies need to make sure they’re adopting this newly integrated and innovative technology just as fast (if not faster) than consumers are.
In 2016 and beyond, it will become critical that retailers not only expand the channels they sell through, but also provide a strong, consistent brand message and a streamlined customer experience across all those sales channels. Personalization, customization and integrated online shopping will rule, and businesses need to ensure they’re leveraging the best modern technologies to help automate, scale and deliver these connected commerce experiences.
Brandon Levey is the CEO of Stitch Labs, an inventory management solutions provider.
Related story: Why Retailers Are Losing Trillions of Dollars