By Euan Harris
The problems faced by high street retailers have been well documented in recent weeks with brands such as Comet, Jessops and HMV some well-known examples. The much anticipated Christmas peak failed to materialise with the Office for National Statistics reporting that high street sales were broadly flat compared to previous years. The same report suggests that this was in stark contrast to online sales which grew by 15.5% in December.
Retailers are faced with a battle on two fronts with the need to offer a superior service to customers, while at the same time cut costs. Consumers are more demanding than ever and expect a better, cheaper, faster and more personalised experience. Couple this with a struggling economy and it’s easy to see why the high street is finding things tough.
Consumers are demanding a multichannel experience and this is highlighted in a report by Synthetix which found that 91% of customers expect to receive consistent information over multiple contact channels. There is no doubt that the marketplace is tougher than it has been for years, yet strong growth in the online sector suggests that businesses who succeed in delivering the multichannel experience their customers demand can excel.
The ability to interact with brands in-store, on their website and through social channels for example, needs to be coupled with the ability to purchase in the way that suits them, e.g. on a mobile device, on eBay or by ‘Click and Collect’.
Mobile is becoming an increasingly important channel for online retailers to introduce into the mix. A recent survey found that 24% of UK consumers used a mobile device for Christmas shopping and this is an area in which many retailers are investing. Those that don’t run the risk of missing out on sales and alienating customers by delivering an inconsistent multichannel experience. A responsive or altered version of your website for mobile devices is therefore essential. As a customer would you purchase from a website that wasn’t scaled to fit your smartphone?
It goes without saying that system and process integration will improve efficiency within the business as all employees will have access to up to date information when they need it and rekeying of data into multiple systems will be eliminated. Improved efficiency will ultimately lead to reduced costs.
As well as improving efficiency, integration across the ever-growing list of channels is a must to ensure the consistent and high level of service that customers now demand. For example retailers should have a single source of inventory that all their sales channels integrate with. It would be a customer experience disaster if a product is out of stock online but they can purchase it in store.
This ‘single view’ is also necessary for managing customer service. Whether it is via email, live chat, Twitter etc., customer service staff need to have a single view of the ‘truth’ to enable them to efficiently handle any customer service queries, which will ultimately lead to brand loyalty.
Therefore, although the retail environment is becoming increasingly more competitive the evidence suggests that organisations that effectively offer an integrated multichannel service can thrive and grow.