I read a quote recently in Retail Week. “For customers shopping across channels, the quality of the journey is no better than its weakest link.”
It’s certainly a tweet-worthy quote. In fact, I tweeted about it. At first, I thought that what Michael Jary called the ‘weak link’ was a channel. But for many retailers, their weakest link isn’t one channel in particular. Instead, it’s the fabric between the channels that creates a weak experience. Data. Systems. Processes.
The way people shop has changed. Rather than going to a nearby store to research and buy, many people will research online and buy in-store, or vice versa. As a first-time mum-to-be, I recently visited Mothercare to make the 3rd largest purchase of my life so far – all the things a baby needs. Through its online experience and marketing messaging, Mothercare portrays itself as a forward-thinking, innovative, multichannel retailer. You know, the same way every other major high street retailer that sells online portrays itself.
When a retailer boasts a multichannel service without the basics in place to support those capabilities, there is a problem. Any obvious breakdown in the fabric between channels fosters distrust amongst consumers.
According to ongoing consumer research by PwC, nearly three-quarters of consumers browse products online before buying at a physical store. I suspect that figure would be significantly higher if the base of consumers surveyed were making large purchases, such as furniture for a new home or items for a newborn.
Here are some essential areas of the customer experience that rely on seamless data integration on- and offline to work well. Failure in these areas can put a small dent in consumer trust when things go wrong. Those small dents can add up if experienced together.
Ensure that your in-store technology and ecommerce platform can access and process product data in a similar way so that store staff can easily help an online customer checkout on the shop floor.
If a retailer is going to boast a robust online account offering and allow consumers to access that account across multiple channels, consumers will assume that all channels will, in turn, be able to access their account information.
Staff on the shop floor should be able to access, edit and add to a customer’s wishlist and should be able to help a customer checkout. This process should seem just as easy to the staff as it would be for a customer to ‘add all’ items to their basket online.
Don’t launch an app that requires a customer to take extra steps to sync data, just for the sake of having an app.
Mothercare’s group mobile commerce manager, commented about the brand’s new mobile app when it launched: “Bridging the gap between online and in-store is a huge focus for us as a business and we see mobile as playing a major part in this.”
Whilst it may be a huge focus, cutting corners essential to the multichannel experience won’t be valuable to customers. A retailer’s mobile app should automatically sync online account information with the app.
For tips about the mobile usability on the web, download our Mobile Retail Report 2015 >
Don’t offer a text reminder or abandoned basket marketing services unless you have processes in place to ensure systems are updated when a customer completes an action, such as picking up a collection order or purchasing an item.
Email and text communication triggers should be joined up in real-time with customer data in order to avoid consumer doubt and confusion.
Unify data models for stock and handling processes at every stage of the distribution chain. Enable access to stock information in real-time on every channel from a single viewpoint.
Whilst cross-channel stock management might feel like a physical integration project the key challenge is, in fact, one of data integration. For many retailers, stock data and rules can be entirely different between on- and offline departments, making unification near-impossible without fundamental changes.
Rules around ordering and shipment of ‘low stock’ items should be the same whether it’s a customer ordering online or a shop assistant ordering on behalf of a customer in-store. Telling a customer that an item is unavailable for delivery only to have that customer buy it online right there in the store is embarrassing for shop staff and once again reduces customer trust in the retailer.
Don’t offer online-only or in-store promotions, unless it is very clear to the customer why you are doing so.
Consumers no longer see your website and your stores as separate. There are several reasons that a consumer may research products online to buy in-store including:
Finance – Many retailers do not offer finance applications online
Uncertainty – Consumers may want to see a few of the products they have chosen in the flesh before buying
Fulfillment – Consumers may think that they will be able to bring items home with them same day, rather than waiting for delivery
If a retailer boasts a multichannel offering, it should not limit promotions customers can use because of the channel they choose to shop on.
Limiting promotions to one channel is now considered a faux pas in multichannel retailing, yet many retailers still use this method year-round including Gap and Mothercare.
Ensure that a customer can contact customer services at any time, without friction.
In the age of 24/7 shopping, it is essential to be reachable 24/7. Of course, that doesn’t mean that customer service staff need to work around the clock. However, when something does go wrong, it’s essential to ensure that customers can contact you in a manner that suits them. Do this by not only offering a contact form on your website, but also an email address.
Consumers are more in control of your company reputation than ever before. One disgruntled customer can wreak havoc on a brand’s reputation.
Humans learn systems. There is an expectation humans have on systems. ‘Best practice’ – whether good or bad – comes from a consistent adherence to those systems. When a customer sees that a retailer offers click and collect, they expect that service to be next day — you know, like John Lewis. Or, when a customer creates a wishlist on their laptop on the website, they expect to be able to immediately access that wishlist from the retailer’s app — you know, like ASOS.
As Darryl Adie said in a recent event about how to prepare your systems for rapid change, ‘pretty websites don’t make great retailers.’ Great retailers can certainly make pretty websites, but empty promises of a joined up multichannel experience can seriously hurt brand reputation.
Consumers value substance. There are only two ways to achieve substance. One is tough and takes a long time: Become a truly multichannel retailer joined up seamlessly on all channels and able to quickly adapt to change.
The other is to only launch services that do the basics really, really well.
For more on multichannel retailing, download our Multichannel Retail Report >