Multichannel must-haves

Dan Hartveld, 5th October 2015

In a fiercely competitive retail market, most businesses have now woken up to the fact that they need to have some kind of digital/physical integration strategy of they want to continue pleasing their customers and making a profit.

This article originally appeared on MyCustomer.

In a fiercely competitive retail market, most businesses have now woken up to the fact that they need to have some kind of digital/physical integration strategy of they want to continue pleasing their customers and making a profit. But there’s a lot of noise out there about what retailers should and shouldn’t do to raise their multichannel game. To provide some much-needed clarity, here are the must-haves which should be part of every retailer’s strategy:

In-store technology – the base point for any retailer should be ensuring there is some kind of crossover between online and in-store - enabling their mobile app to offer a tailored experience in stores, or connecting staff via tablets and ePOS, for example. This is where mobile technology plays a vital role - traditional fixed terminals tend not to work for modern store environments. From this foundation, retailers can use everything from beacons and GPS to smart in–store displays, roaming checkouts and self service kiosks to facilitate crossover and improve customer service. This isn’t technology for technology’s sake – it’s a serious business case for delivering engaging, personalised customer experiences, that are designed to drive sales and increase loyalty, for people that have taken the time to get off their couch, leave the house and actually visit a physical store.

Click and collect – a quick and easy way to boost profits for ‘bricks and clicks’ retailers, and very popular with customers. It’s possible to build a superior service on top of basic click and collect with additions such as alternative fulfilment (allowing customers to collect items at a partner retailer or a locker – CollectPlus, for example) and making sure the collection process is as smooth as possible. It’s important not to bolt click and collect onto existing departments – a number of retailers have added it to their customer service desk, which inevitably involves queuing and often doesn’t allow for secure parcel storage at the front of the house.

Single stock view – knowing where all of your stock is for ‘my store’, other stores, and online, and making that available to all your multichannel touchpoints (staff tablets, tills, website, mobile app etc) in a single feed. Retailers can build on this with the ability to order or reserve stock from any touchpoint to any touchpoint.

Single customer view – in its simplest form, a persistent basket across online channels, for example website and mobile app. For a true cross-channel service, give staff the ability to pick up this basket in-store, then start to layer on more sophisticated customer analytics and CRM data across channels. It’s important to capture data on each touchpoint as well as displaying it – giving in-store access to recent eCommerce activity is useful, but retailers also need to get in-store activity back into online analytics, email marketing and so on.

Open systems and APIs – this is the ultimate manifestation of the three points above - joining up systems to enable agile development. If each system in the retail estate requires a separate integration with every other system, it’s very hard to innovate or add new touchpoints - all of the systems become a lot more brittle (a change in one sends ripples across the entire multichannel estate) and systems don’t act together logically. Connecting them all into a single ‘hub’ enables rapid development while minimising the impact and risk of change.

In–store WiFi – this is more relevant to staff than customers, who are usually happy with their 3G connection. Retailers generally have very poor WiFi across the board, despite the fact that so many in-store digital initiatives rely on it. Most are aware of the problem but it can be tricky to make the business case for investment without already having a project that warrants good WiFi, resulting in a chicken/egg situation where trials fail because of poor connectivity, leaving no way to prove the value in an upgrade. This is why many in-store digital projects are limited to flagship stores - it’s easy and relatively low in cost to kit out one store with superior WiFi or 4G dongles, less so 200.

Ahead of beacons, virtual reality, smart shelves and a multitude of other initiatives which all undoubtedly have a part to play in giving customers an engaging in-store experience, these are the fundamental strategies which must be in place for any retailer with multichannel ambitions. Which, in today’s ‘always-on’ environment, should be all of them.