This article first appeared in MyCustomer
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In the run-up to Christmas, the perennial problems which accompany the season of goodwill are set to once again occupy the minds of even the most prepared retailers and brands.
In general, their festive challenges can be grouped into three key areas:
- Stock management – having the right products in the right place at the right time to avoid disappointment on the big day
- Queue busting – coping with the Christmas rush while still delivering great customer service
- Helping customers get what they want when they’re time-poor and on a deadline
With under eight weeks to go, there’s still time to trial initiatives which can alleviate the issues in each of these three areas, or at least have a viable plan so that you’re not playing catch-up next year:
1 - Eliminate stock management and fulfilment issues by activating online ordering in-store and single stock view
The base point for any retailer should be ensuring there’s no friction between online and offline.
Online ordering in-store has been shown to increase revenue by 1-3% and secondary purchases by up to 35%. Customers have the freedom to review and find stock online and in other stores, place an order and choose their preferred method of delivery. At busy times of the year, colleagues equipped with the means to find stock and take orders can go a long way towards ensuring no customer leaves without the product they want, whether it’s direct from store or for pickup/delivery at a later date.
A study by retail business process experts Martec International revealed that inventory inefficiencies can lead to safety stock margins being 20% higher than necessary. Knowing where all of your stock is for ‘my store’, other stores and online, and making that available to all touchpoints (staff tablets, tills, website, mobile application etc) in a single feed can make a measurable difference to stock management efficiency, particularly during the busy Christmas period. Retailers can build on this with the ability to order or reserve stock from any touchpoint to any touchpoint.
Implementation complexity? Low – at a baseline, put a device in-store that allows a colleague to make a purchase online on behalf of a customer, or create a basket that can then be processed by your call centre when the item is not available in-store. This can then be enhanced with a dedicated assisted sales tool that speeds up the order process and ensures you maximise sales opportunities in the medium term.
Activation timescale: 6 weeks to prove your business case with trial stores showing an increase their revenue. Around 3-6 months to roll out to wider estate (dependent on size).
2 - Use mPOS to get rid of queues
This is where mobile technology plays a vital role - traditional fixed terminals tend not to work for modern store environments, especially at busy times of the year. Surprisingly, while some retailers recognise the benefits of having sales colleagues equipped with the means to accept orders and payments on mobile checkouts, there’s evidence that the majority have yet to fully deploy an mPOS solution. Their reluctance appears to be based on fears over data integration and the need for sales colleagues to handle multiple devices – both of which have been all but eliminated by current tech solutions which harmonise data from any source (legacy, new or third party) and allow payments to be processed via app or online account.
Implementation complexity? Low – the key to implementing effective mPOS solutions is to focus on those that are scalable in terms of potential features (assisted selling, online ordering, returns, click & collect etc) and have low vendor lock-in, but don’t attempt go-live with everything at once – the minimum integration you need to get started is a simple catalogue upload and a payment provider
Activation timescale: 3 months – rollout time is typically dependent on hardware procurement and rollout to store.
3 - Give customers what they want, when they want it with assisted sales and flexible fulfilment
It’s a given that Christmas shopping is stressful – a couple of years ago, research suggested it was akin to running a marathon both physically and mentally. So it’s a gift to customers if your sales colleagues are equipped with all the information they need at their fingertips to make buying simple, seamless and speedy. With the right platform to integrate information across all channels, they can offer the customer’s requested product, cross-sell, upsell and make recommendations relevant to their previous online orders, Christmas and wishlists as well as highlight cross-channel seasonal promotions and offers. And, as in the point above, take payment in one frictionless transaction.
In many ways, fulfilment is the most important challenge – efficiencies in ordering and paying for stock won’t mean a thing, especially at Christmas, unless that product can be delivered on time and at the shopper’s convenience. Offering flexible deliveries and click and collect can boost sales by as much as 5% , and 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. Of course, it follows that, post-Christmas, you need to have a quick and easy reverse process for returning unwanted gifts. The good news is that, once your systems are integrated and working together, it can all be achieved through the same technology.
Implementation complexity? Medium – truly useful assisted selling typically requires ensuring that your in-store colleagues have access to high quality product and stock information, and are empowered to place orders quickly on behalf of the customer – click and collect offerings also make a big difference here.
Activation timescale: 3-6 months – key milestones are effective integration with product data and order management (or eCommerce) systems. Unlike order in-store or mobile POS, bringing the two together into an effective long term assisted sales tool means ensuring you’ve picked a scalable, dedicated in-store retail technology platform. If you’ve chosen this from the start, full assisted selling rollout could simply feel like continuous evolution of your in-store offering.