Retailers wrestle with the future of shopping

Retailers wrestle with the future of shopping featured image

Successful omni-channel retailers are beginning to break down the walls between store and on-line and become customer-centered by aligning the organization, processes, data, reporting and systems.  What’s needed are simple, intuitive, fast tools that provide customer insights across the retailer’s entire product and channel portfolio.  Tools like SAP’s Customer Activity Repository are customer-focused and provide simple, fast access to customer channel preferences by product, season, promotion, location, plus a host of additional data elements.

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Retailers want their shoppers to have the same experience whether on the phone, on the computer or in the store.

One inventory, one unified customer service experience, one checkout. It can mean pick-up in store, ship from store, click and collect, order in-store or a number of other options that make it painless to get what you want, wherever you are, when you want it.

This is what retailers mean when they talk about “omnichannel,” and it’s at the top of their priority lists this year, according to the National Retail Federation. The topic took center stage at the eTail West Conference in Palm Desert on Wednesday. The conference, hosted by Worldwide Business Research, runs through Friday.

“What’s going to happen over the next five years is a merging of online and offline into a single retail organization,” said Forrester VP and Principal Analyst Peter Sheldon, during a keynote presentation at the J.W. Marriott.

To be successful with such a transformation, Sheldon said, retailers will have to stop thinking about their digital and in-store customers as different people, and their online and physical store sales as separate. Because they’re not, he said. A Forrester study found that half of sales that take place in physical stores were influenced by online research, he said. At outdoors retailer REI, 75 percent sales at brick-and-mortar stores were researched online in the seven days prior.

“If we didn’t have digital, what effect would that have on our retail businesses in terms of lost foot traffic?” Sheldon asked rhetorically.

Retailers like Lululemon and Home Depot have restructured to make the same executives accountable for both digital and brick-and-mortar sales, which he said has had positive results. Store teams started reporting website bugs to digital teams, for example, and everyone began focusing on how to create the most pleasant customer experience both online and offline.

“This way, everyone becomes obsessed with the customer,” Sheldon said.

Don’t deny that the consolidation is going to happen, he warned. He advised the digital crowd at eTail West to embrace the change by learning everything they can about their companies’ store operations and offline retail.

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