With an increasing number of channels available to reach customers — from the Web to mobile devices, social-media outlets, self-service kiosks and more — retailers need to ensure that they provide a consistent and rich experience that will boost customer loyalty and have a positive impact on the bottom line. Indeed, as retailers grapple with 24/7 buyer access to information, eroding margins and a disconnected, fragmented technology infrastructure, the need for integrating the right solutions has never been stronger. Chain Store Age spoke with Lindsay Carpen, retail practice director from Lincolnshire, Ill.-based Junction Solutions, a multichannel solutions provider, about the state of multichannel retailing and what to expect in the future.
How has multichannel retailing changed over the last year or so?
With the growth and adoption of mobile devices such as the iPhone and BlackBerry, mobile applications and social media are now reshaping the way consumers make buying decisions. This is allowing retailers to connect with their customers in new and creative ways. Retailers are increasingly embracing the concept of cross-channel retailing as an extension of a multichannel strategy.
What new developments have there been recently in terms of online and mobile solutions for retailers?
Location-based services that pick up where you are has been a big hit, and I see them becoming more mainstream. However, the technology landscape is very fragmented, and the quality of information is spotty. Retailers are trying to figure out where they should be showing up now that the definition of “search” has gone beyond engine optimization to mobile-app listings.
There are also some interesting “tagging” applications using 3-D barcodes that can be scanned by taking a picture with a phone that offers a lot of potential for delivering very relevant content. Retailers are also figuring out how to use social networking to better connect with and interact with customers.
How does this impact the customer experience?
Retailers already think their customers know more than their associates. When you add instantaneous access to detailed product and pricing information combined with location-based services, customers will be smarter than ever. Research shows that consumers still rely on the retailer to tell them when they are getting a good price, but now it’s easier for them to second-guess. There is a great opportunity for merchants to have an even stronger bond with their customers by using micro-marketing and rewarding them for offering commentary on the social-networking sites.
What challenges do retailers face in providing a rich cross-channel experience?
Historically, most retail businesses entered different channels by standing up distinct business units around each channel. Once a company realizes the benefits of organizing themselves around the customer instead of a particular channel, the cost of continuing to operate in the existing IT silos becomes obvious.
However, most retailers underestimate the level of effort required to make this change. Making all systems in each different channel speak the same language is a big problem. Retailers need a platform that will enable a customer-centric experience by coordinating these channels rather than just integrating them.
What other technologies will allow retailers to overcome these challenges?
In addition to selecting a solution that is designed to work together across multiple channels, retailers should select a platform that can help shoppers connect with their employees and customers anywhere, at any time, and on any device. As we look to the future, leading multichannel retail solutions will evolve to deliver cloud-based enterprise applications that fulfill this promise of anywhere computing.
What can we expect from multichannel in the future, from both a business and technology perspective?
Mobile phones will become increasingly powerful, not only as a platform for delivering information but also as a way to identify a customer and react to them. There is already infrastructure in place to identify customers by their mobile-device IDs. This does present privacy challenges, but I think many people would opt in given the potential rewards.
The lines between the Web and mobile will become increasingly blurred. Upsell features will all get more accurate as retailers better understand customer needs. All of this information will also be available to associates in the store and call center, and that will be very powerful too.