Why POS Will Close the Online/In-Store Gap
As the online shopping experience continues to evolve, retailers must look for ways to keep consumers interested and engaged while in-store. The merchant-owned direct channel isn't the only difficulty for chain stores. Amazon.com has transformed logistics, marketing, shopping and, most importantly, consumer expectations about what a satisfying customer experience should look like and how it comports with their individual lifestyles. For chain store merchants, this poses a special problem: they must now gain access to a customer’s sharable preferences and purchase profiles in addition to offering them the right merchandise and services.
Now that 84 percent of U.S. shoppers are using their mobile devices before or during a shopping trip, and pre-visit preferences and product knowledge are at an all-time high, how do retailers transform their physical stores to experientially interoperate with the digital marketplace?
Most chain stores haven't made the necessary adjustments to keep up with changing consumer expectations and recent advancements in the digital shopping experience. Today’s shopper comes armed with knowledge about competitor pricing, product details and even customization options that store associates may not have visibility to. Retailers know they need to help store associates sharpen their customer engagement skills with the right tools, but they're struggling with how to pull it all together. Aside from location and merchandise, the store associate — more than any other factor — makes or breaks a customer experience and the success of a store.
Enabling Store Associates
In order to bridge the gap between digital and in-store experiences, today’s store associates must know much more about the merchandise than what's in their store. They need access to, and knowledge of, the entire network. However, it doesn’t stop there. A customer may be subscribed to and posting Likes and Shares on a brand’s Facebook page or may be active on its Twitter feed. They may have a freshly abandoned online shopping cart and an active wish list. They may also have a long and rich purchase history from both offline and online channels that will be germane to their store visit. By leveraging properly deployed mobile technology, brick-and-mortar retailers can create informed employees who are in tune with a customer’s long- and short-term journey with the brand. While using customer and inventory data for selling, the associate must still perform the rest of their daily routine — i.e., maintaining the stock room and selling floor along with traditional point-of-sale (POS) functions. Mobile can interweave these tasks in a highly productive way. In essence, more and better work can be performed with the same number of staff.
Looking across network inventory and order management systems can provide store associates with a big-picture view and help overcome the complexities related to customer service requests that are normally only handled online or by a call center. When a store associate has visibility to both past and current active orders from the direct channel, they can present a single brand image and service level to the customer. With fingertip access to the company’s entire network of available inventory as well as customer purchase history and preferences, associates are able to provide a more accurate picture of what’s available and appropriate for their customer. The use of mobile devices in this way bridges the gap between online and in-store, ensuring that any research or previous shopping done online is reflected during the in-store experience and that store employees have knowledge of current customer activity, long-term history and product availability throughout the network.
Improving the Return Process
The ability to purchase an item online and then return it in-store is no longer considered a luxury. However, processing online returns in-store remains a challenge for most retailers. Introducing a product into the store inventory pool adds new complexity. Retailers must be able to handle returns efficiently to keep stock ledgers accurate and to meet demand for online and in-store orders.
An advanced store commerce system can provide a new set of configuration rules to handle the most complex return situations with the least amount of friction. Stand-alone POS systems, with lots of work and integration, may be able to accomplish the same thing, but will ultimately slow down progress as order management and commerce platforms change over time. Also, flexible mobile technology needs to be part of the store commerce platform. A unified commerce platform can provide store associates with the ability to accept any return, regardless of which channel initiated the order or how the customer chooses to receive credit. While there are numerous challenges facing retailers when handling the return of online orders, the importance of mastering them in today’s omnichannel world cannot be overstated. The right technology can serve as a differentiator between retaining or losing a customer during the in-store return experience.
Offering retailers a single platform for consumer transactions, inventory management, order fulfillment and order orchestration across an organization is an effective start to bridging the gap between the online and in-store shopping experiences. While there are many ways for retailers to tackle this challenge, giving store associates the right awareness and execution tools with in-store technology is a good start. Allowing associates to spend quality time with customers and offering a highly personalized experience is also critical. By choosing proper technology and technology partners to help support store associates, retailers can begin to improve the in-store experience in today’s “online world.”
Kevin Swanwick is senior director, retail solutions, at Manhattan Associates, a supply chain software provider for retailers and brands.