Comment: Retailers have only just scratched the surface for a real multichannel experience
Since multichannel practices began through the advent of eCommerce technology, retailing has changed dramatically, but there is still a long way to go before retailers harness the power of multichannel to truly benefit the bottom line. By Daren Ward
Multichannel isn’t just a way of selling to customers in several different ways but an opportunity for cross selling, developing smarter merchandising practices and improving the customer experience through the aligning of processes and greater use of customer intelligence, gathered via one channel and exploited through another.
The industry does recognise that multichannel isn’t just about having multiple sales channels – hence the newer term ‘cross channel’ which implies it is not just selling through multiple channels but is also about some level of integration. However, it still feels like the emphasis is on the sales channel and that it is all about selling instead of being about how retailers operate multiple sales routes to market across the organisation. The route to all these benefits is having the technology and the processes in place to enable the flow of information across all teams and departments. This is where the big opportunities lie behind multichannel.
Huge opportunities lie across the organisation; in marketing and merchandising and throughout the supply chain. For example, we gain a lot of insight into customer preferences through the purchasing and returns behaviour on the online store. Customers are showing us what products sell well together through search patterns and sales online – but are we using that information to maximise how we market and merchandise the same products in store and elsewhere?
Retailers gather intelligence across all channels and yet are still not really using it to drive business value. There is a huge opportunity to take multichannel expertise into the core departments of the business and really think about how some of the information available can enhance sales and the customer experience.
Think about how departments and teams can share information to drive corporate efficiencies. Many large retailers will often have separate merchandising and marketing teams for their eCommerce channels therefore almost repeating the whole structure in place for the bricks and mortar stores. Each team will communicate with group managers but this structure still means that there is a lot of repetition as nearly every process is repeated again in a different way for eCommerce, for example, product descriptions on labels. The information on labels in store is often not very customer friendly because it is too watered down. However, someone in the eCommerce team is writing product descriptions that include really useful details – some of which would benefit the customer looking at the product in store.
In turn, technology can enable real business value from the information retailers already receive from customers, such as product returns. A certain product may be getting returned because the colour wasn’t what they had expected from the picture online – so if the retailer improved the product image by a few thousand pixels, might they get less returns? It could be that simple. Retailers spend a lot of money processing returns. They gather the reason for a product return, but then don’t then use this information enough to rectify the problem! Why not communicate these reasons to the right people so they can improve the imagery, size descriptions and other elements that are the root cause of returned items?
With mobile, the danger is retailers will just take most elements of their eCommerce channel and replicate on mobile - that’s not what it is about. You need to give the customer the right level of information for the right scenario, and think about which services are relevant to users rather than simply the size of the device. For instance, offers needs to be given to customers in a timely and concise fashion. There’s no use telling a customer about an offer just as they’ve reached the top of a long queue during their rushed lunch break. It’s about enabling better customer service in real time.
The technology exists for customers in stores or elsewhere using their mobile device. We all like the idea of being about to walk up to a customer in store at the back of the queue and process their payment. Can’t we hand the capability to the customer? That person might be a loyal customer, they might have an online account, a loyalty card and they have a wallet on their online account - why can’t they pay through their online account? Fantastic – the only problem is proving what they have paid for. So let’s tackle that issue rather than see mobile as just ‘another’ channel.
Extracting and using multichannel ‘intelligence’ is the key to helping us to do this and let’s think customer, not sales channel.
Daren Ward is Director of Retail and Consumer at independent IT consultancy, Glue Reply
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