By David Anzia
What began as a retail buzzword has turned into a full-fledged movement within the industry. Omnichannel retailing is now at the forefront of company strategies, with two big motivators pushing retailers to transcend walled-off commerce and implement a seamless experience.
The first comes in the form of the connected consumer, who has expectations for both individualized and seamless interactions with retailers. The second is the pressure certain retailers are feeling from shoppers engaged in showrooming and the unrelenting competition from online retailers like Amazon, who are the beneficiaries of that behavior.
You need only to attend a retail conference or engage a few retail executives in conversation to understand the need for speed, the importance of overcoming infrastructure hurdles and erasing the barriers between consumer touchpoints. More than half of respondents to RSR's 2013 Cross Channel Benchmark survey feel consumer expectations outpace their ability to deliver on a consistent retail experience.
On the consumer-facing side of this retail upheaval, continuity of experience — enabled by engaging interactive merchandising, a choice of self-service options and informed assisted selling — will be the driver for garnering the loyalty of digitally savvy Millennial shoppers. Those are the shoppers that will account for nearly a third of retail sales by the end of the decade.
Retailers no longer question the fact that omnichannel retailing offers benefits that transcend the challenges of implementation. Beyond the infrastructure changes and organizational realignments required, there is a vision for attracting and retaining high value customers and driving greater sales.
Improved customer perception
Customers expect integration and will become impatient waiting for it to become a reality. The blurring of channels isn't just a retail phenomenon. It is advancing into other aspects of consumers' lives like entertainment, where two-screen viewing is becoming a behavioral norm. Retailers are in a transitional time where speed of implementation can be differentiating and brand-building or slow response can be frustrating and damaging.
Retailers who have inventory visibility and availability in the customer's channel of choice have a better opportunity to complete the sale. The proof of this tenant is in the success of department store shopping kiosks and category tablet kiosks that give shoppers access to a wider selection and provide multiple points of access to complete the purchase. Consumers who shop across channels are actually spending more with their favorite retailers.
Better data collection
Visibility across channels means a more customized experience. Retailers that can track customers across channels and understand preferences can better serve their customers. They also gain insights into crafting offers that motivate customers to get out from behind their screens and engaged in-store, where the likelihood of impulse purchase is greater.
An omnichannel strategy can arm store associates with tools that increase access to information and promote efficiency. Tablets have become the front line of defense against customers armed with more information than store employees and a great offense for turning customer data into loyalty-building service.
There are benefits and best practices involved in the use of technologies — tablets, smartphones and touchscreens — that are the face of omnichannel retailing for consumers.
David Anzia is the senior vice president of sales at Frank Mayer and Associates.
Read more about multichannel retailing.