By Richard Hearn, CEO, Crown Partners
Every brick-and-mortar retailer has faced the inevitable conflict that arises when a customer needs a specific size, quantity or product that should be available, but isn’t. The ways in which this scenario may play out are endless: Maybe it’s that the item’s featured online, but for whatever reason, it’s not available in-store. Or the customer wants a size 4, just like the several other size 4s who beat her to the chase. A busy entrepreneur needs 10 phones (and now), but there are only five in stock. Or the biggest kids’ craze since Silly Bandz has emerged, and the supply simply can’t keep up with the demand. It’s at these pivotal moments that retailers have to choose between passively accepting their defeat or actively salvaging the sale of a product that’s not actually there.
Often, the only thing standing between retailers and their customers is their operational efficiency. Tracking down an in-demand or out-of-stock product on the spot is easy if the correct systems are in place, both internally and externally.
This means syncing all moving parts behind the scenes so that they communicate with one another through an enterprise content management system, and allow retailers to put on a good face for customers as a result. From distribution and fulfillment channels, warehouses, and numerous store locations, to sales reports, inventory, and ecommerce activity, there are numerous systems that comprise the backbone of retail operations and ultimately contribute to the customer-facing side of the business.
A negative or positive customer experience largely depends on the level of integration and ease of use, of many of these otherwise invisible systems.
Here are three ways internet retailers can extend the benefits of their enterprise content management systems into the culture of their brick-and-mortar stores to avoid this very situation:
1. Computer stations for easy order placement. Retailers that offer a plethora of products such as Staples and Best Buy can’t possibly keep all of their items in stock in all of their stores at all times. And even if they managed to, they can’t predict customers’ sudden need to buy certain products in bulk quantities. In lieu of having endless quantities of products on their store shelves, these retailers have a back up plan: easy-to-use computer stations allow their sales associates to salvage sales by ordering for or with the customer right there, while simultaneously reinforcing benefits such as free overnight delivery to account for a lack of immediacy.
2. Incorporate QR codes onto similar in-stock items. In the case of the customer who needs an item in a popular — and thus, unavailable — size, a mobile option might come into play nicely. Including a QR code on the tags of this item (in other sizes) will allow either the customer or a nearby sales associate to pull up the item quickly and place an order for immediate delivery. Along the way, product recommendations specifically targeted to the customer’s taste may increase the overall shopping cart amount. And depending on the store’s procedures, this may be an opportune time for the sales associate to either order more of this item — or make a note on inventory.
3. Arm associates with portable tech-savvy solutions; arm customers with mobile perks. In addition to computer stations and embedding technology into the products itself, you can (and should) make your customer service staff mobile. Literally.
Providing mobile technology to floor staff not only expedites their learning curve and training time, it also places all the information they need about products, stock, and any other information they might need to do their jobs well right at their fingertips. Gone are the days where on-the-ground staff has to leave the customer’s side while looking for an answer — and the days when a customer left your store to find it on their own.
Mobile technology used in a user-facing capacity can act as a tool to engage customers with things like on-the-spot instant win promotions; extending the sale to merchandise that can be viewed online, but not in the store, and; instant email coupons personally from the staff to reward/satisfy a customer in real time on the floor.
There are really no limits to the number of ways a retailer can extend its operations across multiple channels once its CMS is in perfect order. With the CMS acting as the operational hub, different technologies can tap into it, read it, and drastically increase efficiency and productivity. For brick and mortar retailers, often times this means avoiding the loss of customers and sales to nearby competitors when the item — or information — they need isn’t immediately available.
Richard Hearn is CEO of Crown Partners.