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Dan Mortimer

Red Ant

CEO

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Beyond ‘omnichannel’ – customer experience in the retail sector

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‘The path to purchase is evolving. Digital is empowering and informing shoppers as they make their purchasing decisions. The key to success is satisfying shopper needs for convenience, choice, and value for money.’

That’s the opinion of consumer research giant Nielsen. And as they regularly talk to more than 250,000 households around the world about their shopping habits, they speak with some authority. This is the truth that retailers need to wake up to – now more than ever, the customer is in control:

  • They’re ‘always on’ (98 percent of smartphone users have their phones on them at all times, even in bed)
  • They have unprecedented access to products and services which is no longer limited either by time or geography – 60 percent of mobile and tablet owners use them to search for products, and 74 percent of those go on to make a purchase
  • 71 percent of consumers still prefer a ‘physical’ shopping experience, and the majority (70 percent) actively use their mobiles while shopping
  • Tellingly, 86 percent of buyers will pay more for a better customer experience, but only one percent of customers feel that retailers consistently meet their expectations
  • Dissatisfied customers vote with their feet – 89 percent will defect to a competitor following poor service

(Sources: Google – our mobile planet; Forrester; Oracle)

Traditional methods of guiding customers down the more profitable purchase paths or attempting to herd them through specific channels, however enlightened or ‘omnichannel’ the retailer professes to be, are no longer fit for purpose. Customers don’t ‘see’ channels – they simply expect each route to deliver what they want, when they want it, whether it’s product information, a list of local stores, the ability to make a purchase or pick up an order. If they want to survive, retailers will put the customer at the heart of their business strategy, and will fully exploit the technology available to deliver a compelling customer experience on- and offline.

Making it personal

The key to delivering a superior customer experience – one which encourages loyalty and increases sales – is to use the benefits only digital can offer to connect customers’ purchase touchpoints and turn every shopping experience into a personal journey.

On a hygiene level, this involves intelligent application of the much-vaunted ‘big data’ (it’s really just the information available to all retailers who monitor customer activity) to identify the audience and tailor offers to their requirements – seasonal ranges, age-specific promotions, product recommendations and so on.

But there’s a much deeper level which relies on a whole-of-business commitment to channel convergence and depends on engaged and empowered sales staff who have the knowledge and ability to adapt to each individual’s requirements.

Retail is not about channels – it’s about people

In the race to deliver ‘multichannel’ or more recently ‘omnichannel’ services, retailers have tended to overlook a fundamental fact, alluded to above: retail is not about channels – it’s about people.

One part of this equation is the customer – as mentioned above, they should be the focus of every retailer’s business strategy. The other, equally vital, part is each individual involved in giving that customer what they want – from IT department to logistics. Retailers need to recognise that they can’t begin to offer a seamless customer experience without putting in place a seamless operational experience, breaking down internal barriers to converge and harmonise all processes – web, mobile and in-store.

And this is where the retailer’s biggest asset comes in – the sales staff. A recent study from the US came to the conclusion that: ‘Retailers need to transition to more open, integrated and mobile solutions that [allow them] to optimize their workforce management initiatives and also create engaging and valuable customer experiences’.

(source: Retail Touchpoints: Retailers enrich the customer experience through workforce optimization)

An engaged, motivated sales team, equipped with a tailor-made mobile platform giving them instant access to everything they need to provide a compelling and personalised customer journey which increases purchase touchpoints and offers significant sales potential. This is the future of retail – one which is within easy reach of businesses ready to ditch ‘omnichannel’ and commit to convergence via digital as the key to first-class customer experience.

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