When Even the Girl Scouts are Multichannel …

The Girl Scouts have embraced multichannel retail, but many store-only retailers still don’t buy into the concept.

The first weekend in March ended the availability of Girl Scout cookies for the year. But what made this year different from the last 90 years of the institution’s existence is that, for the first time, the Girl Scouts leveraged their online presence to help sell cookies. Not only could shoppers “meet” the cookies through their online profile on MySpace, they could enter their ZIP code on the Girl Scouts Web site (www.girlscouts.org) and find where a local troop would be selling cookies.

Yes, technically what the Girl Scouts are doing doesn’t fully qualify as “multichannel” retailing. While they aren’t actually selling the cookies online, they are making good use of the Internet to drive local purchases, something that’s critically important to the local troops who depend on cookie sales to raise money.

Interestingly, there are still many retailers that are not making the most of a multichannel presence. In Retail Systems Alert Group’s recent report, “The Highway To MultiChannel Retailing,” 23% of store-based retailing respondents reported that they still operate only the store channel.

While there are certainly segments for which online selling is not an option (grocery retailers, for example, still struggle to define an e-commerce strategy) retailers with no experience in multichannel retailing face a steep learning curve as consumer demand for a multichannel experience starts to creep up on them:

Store-only retailers just don’t buy into the multichannel consumer concept. Thirty-two percent of store-only retailer respondents said they were unconcerned with increased cross-channel consumer behavior compared with only 13% of store-based multichannel retailers. Also, 39% of store-only respondents were unconcerned with increased multichannel expectations from their customers, as opposed to only 10% of their store-based multichannel counterparts.

Store-only respondents also seemed to believe their differentiation is secure: Thirty-seven percent reported that they were unconcerned with price competitiveness as a driver for multichannel retailing vs. 20% of their store-based multichannel peers.

Store-only retailers worry more about the wrong multichannel challenges. Since they’re not tapped into the multichannel consumer mind-set, store-only retailers don’t have the guidance and experience they need when they are ready to start leveraging the online channel. As a result, they worry about the wrong things.

While both store-based multichannel and store-only retail respondents were concerned about single-data stores across channels (49% vs. 50%, respectively, rated it “very important”), multichannel retailers were much more worried about distributed order management (69% vs. store-only 43%), and content and product information management (52% vs. store-only 25%).

Store-only retailers, on the other hand, worry more about how to make it work physically. Forty-four percent of these respondents rated transportation and returns-management systems as very important compared to 30% of their store-based multichannel counterparts.

If you evaluated an online presence even just a couple years ago and found it wasn’t worth it, you may want to reopen that decision. The RSAG multichannel report found that nearly 80% of retail winners (those that outperformed their peers in comparable-store sales growth) operate in multiple channels, vs. only 50% of retailers who performed worse than average.

After all, if the Girl Scouts are figuring out how to leverage multiple channels, shouldn’t you?

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