Optimizing In-Store and Online Channels for the Ultimate Customer Experience
Retail was impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic on a foundational level. Unable to open doors to the public and forced to quickly scale up (or even create from scratch) an online business model, the industry had to adapt fast to preserve revenue streams. Now, nearly two years later, the retail landscape has evolved significantly as businesses have identified that changes made during the pandemic will remain critical to their success going forward.
During this period, retailers altered to the needs of the consumer. As part of that transition, emphasis was placed on making shopping as convenient as possible for customers. Retailers leveraged services such as buy online, pick up in-store (BOPIS) or buy online, return in-store (BORIS) to enable customers to conduct their shopping however they felt comfortable and safe.
The convenience of these online channels has changed consumer demands for good as they want information and access to items at the click of a button. Yet, brick-and-mortar stores still hold a significant amount of value from an experiential perspective as customers have missed the ability to walk into a store and interact directly with products and sales staff. Moving forward, customers' in-store experience will become critical to brand differentiation, while convenience remains preeminent online.
Online vs In-Store
In this new era, the challenge for retailers is to understand how they can provide a balanced omnichannel approach combining in-store and online shopping to optimize the customer experience. It has never been more important to provide seamless and convenient online shopping, while also delivering top quality customer service in-store. With a plethora of alternative retailers only a search away, consumers are ready to shop elsewhere if they don't feel that they're receiving the level of personalized service they expect.
The question remains: How can retailers find this balance? For years now, many have answered that question with the implementation of an omnichannel approach, creating one seamless experience by utilizing all available sales channels. However, retailers are struggling to deploy this strategy effectively. According to research undertaken by SML, almost one-third of retailers in the U.S. and U.K. claim that meeting customer expectations is the biggest pain point when implementing an omnichannel strategy. Meanwhile, 43 percent of retailers believe that having real-time visibility into stock levels would help them to better serve their customers.
Omnichannel is clearly important. However, to execute a strategy effectively, a retailer’s inventory management must be accurate. Only then can it expect to find the balance between in-store and online.
The Logistical Importance of RFID
Through the use of item-level RFID, retailers can create efficient inventory management that streamlines online shopping channels. The industry standard of inventory accuracy sits approximately at 65 percent. By deploying item-level RFID, retailers can increase this to 93 percent to 99 percent in the space of days. That level of accuracy can be maintained consistently, unlike annual physical counts that continue to deteriorate throughout the course of the year until a new count is completed.
Enhanced inventory accuracy provides a number of benefits as retailers have complete visibility over where their stock is. From warehouse to storefronts, each business has an accurate view of inventory location down to specific items, allowing for improved organization and improved supply chain throughput to maximize the use of all existing inventory. With item-level RFID in place, retailers can create the foundation of a seamless omnichannel experience. An accurate view of inventory enables them to deploy strategies such as BOPIS and BORIS effectively, providing customers with the options and flexibility they demand while optimizing costs.
Creating Value for Customers
In addition to supply chain operations, RFID also allows in-store staff to better serve customers on the shop floor. According to SML’s findings, on average, staff spend 14.6 hours per week executing inventory-related tasks (e.g., counting, receiving, finding, transferring), with some respondents claiming that they spend as many as 36 hours per week.
Item-level RFID allows staff to scan all in-store stock within minutes, significantly decreasing the amount of time spent trying to manually count inventory. This frees up the time of store associates to better service customers on the shop floor. Also, the use of dynamic Geiger search capabilities to quickly locate items further improves the overall customer experience as store staff can efficiently locate on-hand items for customers.
By leveraging the right technology, retailers can remain flexible to ever-changing customer needs. As retail continues to become more digital, the convenience of e-commerce will only improve. However, brick-and-mortar stores are still crucial for shoppers who are looking for the complete offering of customer experience and the ability to connect directly with store associates to provide product knowledge and service. Retailers must remain agile through both channels in order to remain competitive.
Dean Frew is the chief technology officer and senior vice president of RFID solutions at SML Group, the leading RFID solutions provider.