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Retailers are in the “dial up” stage of omni-channel

A Retail Business Technology Expo panel likened the current omni-channel movement to the dial-up stage of internet connectivity

The omni-channel movement in the retail space is still in its “dial-up” phase, and it will be a while before it becomes “broadband”, according to a panel at the Retail Business Technology Expo (RBTE).

The panel likened omni-channel to the early stages of internet connectivity after claiming retailers struggle with the more complex aspects of offering an omni-channel experience, such as personalisation, seamless payments and single customer journeys.

“At the moment we’re just dial-up internet. We’re trying to get to big broadband internet for omni-channel,” said Mark Beresford, director at Edgar, Dunn & Company.

“Retailers do have a drive to get to a single system, but it’s going to take quite a few more years to get that.”

According to Beresford, one of the key mistakes retailers make is to separate their channels, which prevents consumers from having a joined up experience. Thismakes it difficult for retailers to handle “exceptions” from the original process, such as returns, out of stock warnings, refunds and fraud.

“Our shoppers are not thinking, ‘what channel am I going to use?’. They’re channel agnostic,” said Beresford. “There are opportunities and challenges, and any approach to omni-channel has to approach both of those.”

The challenge of omni-channel

The shift towards omni-channel has led to a number of organisations that began as bricks-and-mortar businesses developing an online offering, but with no integration to other channels.

“We used to say integrated multichannel – there are a lot of retailers that thought multichannel, but have built an e-commerce silo,” said Beresford.

The panel insisted retailers should not implement “technology for technology’s sake”. but to make shopping an “entertainment experience”. They said technology needs to be tested because “you can’t predict how the consumers will behave and react”.

According to Andrew Quartermaine, vice-president of merchant retail at ACI Worldwide, the most difficult thing about implementing omni-channel is to avoid developing silos.

“The opportunity is there with all the different channels that exist, but tying all those channels together is the challenge,” said Quartermaine.

Improving the payments process

Improving the payments process was a step emphasised by the panel as tying retail channels together. This can be done by giving customers a seamless experience online and offline, and using payments as a platform for returns and loyalty.  

“You need frictionless payments, where the payment is there but it’s almost invisible. When it’s almost invisible to the consumer, that’s when it’s successful,” said Quartermaine.

“Omni-channel is the buzz word of the moment, but it is all about providing frictionless payments.”

Omni-channel has made international expansion easier for business. However, due to differences in each country, the payments process can vary and lead to a different experience for customers.

“A lot of retailers have expanded internationally, effectively building up silos of card-present and card-not-present activity on a country by country basis.”

To tackle this, Quartermaine said retailers should roll out technologies on a trial basis across countries and locations, which will help discover what works for different customers.

Trialling in-store technology

According to Quartermaine, it’s important to run in-store pilots as stores and customers will be different – especially with international expansion.

Running “ring-fence piloting” allows stores to trial technologies in different regions to establish what works best.

“Not many stores know the customers coming into those store,.” said Quartermaine, highlighting the importance of trials and customer data collection to ensure the right service is being delivered.

“That enables the retailer to offer those customer journeys that make the customer experience fun. That is what we have to do to drive customers back to the store,” said Quartermaine.

Crossing channels

Although the growth of omni-channel has meant a push to online and mobile, this has not led to the death of the high-street that many anticipated.

Louise Cowan, global fraud and payment manager for River Island, said different customers prefer different interactions. She added that the store is still important to retailers and they should be trying to “entice customers to make that jump from one channel to another”.

“It’s firstly identifying the different data sets and then finding a way to join those together so you get a holistic view of the customer,” said Cowan. “Deliver something they want, not something that seems cool and you feel you should be doing.”

Retailers should be using all channels to ensure they are still giving people a reason to visit stores. Cowan highlighted click and collect as a perfect example why people would cross channels.

“There has to be a differentiator between what you get online and what’s in store,” she said.

“You’ve got the opportunity to get it right and give customers the experience they’re looking for. If you have customers who shop with your brand because you keep getting it right, they’ll keep shopping with your brand.”

To round off the perfect customer in-store experience, Cowan highlighted how important it is to streamline the payments process.

“Payments are the end part of the customer journey and you need to get it right,” she said. “Payment isn’t a choice for a customer, it’s something that has to happen. But if you make it easy, customers remember.”

Read more about omni-channel

  • The future omni-channel customer experience might be personalised, but there is a long road ahead yet.
  • Head of online operations development at Sainsbury’s Dave Crellin says retail channels are growing so fast customers don’t know what they want.

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