Getting under the skin of digital in retail

John McKnight
By , - Enabling DigitalRetail

With the demand for digital services greater than ever before, retailers are increasingly looking at multi-channel to best serve customers needs.

According to a study from Forrester, more than half of European retail sales will be touched by digital in some form in the next five years with mobile central to everything we do. On top of this, 94% of retailers cite higher engagement and conversion rates by optimising the customer experience, according to eConsultancy.

Ahead of the peak retail period last year, we ‘mystery shopped’ six major retailers in the UK to assess how well digital and omni-channel strategies are being adopted in the high street. We tested three scenarios, all of which were everyday customer interactions you’re likely to see in the shops.

‘Let me just check that for you…’

Looking at staff’s use of technology, we found a high usage of Internet, intranet and PCs and sometimes a combination of sources were used to compensate for information gaps.

However, there were still some stores were they were not using information sources at all. This is where there’s a high potential to lose sales because the right information is not available where and when it’s needed.

Using omni-channel to ‘save the sale’

Real-time visibility of inventory is a key pillar of omni-channel retailing. If staff need to ‘save the sale’, employees need to be able to confirm stock availability across channels, place an order, and ensure fast and accurate fulfilment.

Our research found only 50% of sales assistants could find out inventory levels of an item at another store, while only 20% could check on availability at a nominated store near the customer’s home. As staff were unaware of the test shopping project, it’s likely some of them had no interest to find out this additional information.

When it came to arranging delivery, staff could only arrange delivery to a nearby store in half of instances. As a result of this, half of sales were lost because of an inability to see whether inventory was available in another store. 

‘When will it arrive at my home and what will be the delivery cost?’

 It goes without saying, not being able to get the product you want sent home is a massive inconvenience for the customer. However, technology is helping retailers to grasp this.

We found in 80% of interactions, the sales assistant could arrange delivery of a product to shopper’s home address or the shopper’s ‘home store’. A similar proportion were able to give details on time, and costs. However, that still leaves one in five shops that weren’t able to do this.

For the majority of cases, information about the product matched with the shopper’s prior research. In most cases it seemed to be easy for the salesperson to provide the information asked for.

In a number of instances we found this stopped short of a full end-to-end service because store associates are unable to deliver the timely information and service that customers expect.

With interactions taking between 10 to 20 minutes, how many lost opportunities are there to sell during this time? A more efficient system gives the associate time back to help other customers – which in turn improves overall experience.

How should retailers respond?

With leading retail brands embracing omni-channel strategies to win and retain customers, shopper expectations are rising. But, for some stores, their omni-channel strategy stops a little short of an end-to-end service.

As a perfect shopping experience becomes the norm, this is what every customer will expect. Retailers who are able to consistently achieve that 100% will leave their competitors in their wake.

Shoppers can be fickle and any delays can be critical. Finding items, placing orders and arranging delivery must happen quickly before customers change their mind. ‘Saving the sale’ needs to be fast and convenient. If this doesn’t happen, then retailers may lose significant sales and gain a negative reputation for trust, reliability and customer service.

To keep pace of retail today, brands need to give real-time, accurate data to their staff as soon as possible. By providing a single digital interface, retailers are able to provide speed, efficiency and ease and together with staff training, sales assistants will be able to provide the best job possible.

Retail is fast-moving and can be complex, so it’s essential that a multi-channel solution has the ability to evolve and respond to every change – and keep ahead of expectations.

Having a great brand is a massive advantage for retailers and an excellent staff base gives you an edge. But choosing the right omni-channel solution is equally important for ambitious retailers that want to maximise success. Those that get this right will win in the future.

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