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3Nov 2016

Connecting online with offline: tech must-haves in a post-channel world

The retail market has now evolved beyond ‘omnichannel’ and ‘multichannel’. The burgeoning capabilities of API orchestration and its ability to harmonise data from an almost limitless range of sources means that the industry is effectively inhabiting a post-channel world.

As we move towards a shopping environment which genuinely doesn’t discriminate between online and offline, there are any number of conversations going on about what retailers should and shouldn’t do to stake their claim in this new landscape. To provide some much-needed clarity, here are the must-haves which should be part of every retailer’s technical strategy…

Make the in-store experience as good as the website

The base point for any retailer should be ensuring they connect online with offline – enabling their mobile app to offer a tailored experience in stores, or connecting sales colleagues via tablets and ePOS, for example. This is where mobile technology plays a vital role – traditional fixed terminals tend not to work for modern store environments. From this foundation, retailers can use everything from beacons and GPS to smart in–store displays, roaming checkouts and self-service kiosks to facilitate crossover and improve customer service.

Click and collect

This can boost sales by as much as five percent. A quick and easy way to boost profits for ‘bricks and clicks’ retailers, and very popular with customers – spend is set to double by 2021 according to analysts Verdict Retail.

It’s possible to build a superior service on top of basic click and collect with additions such as alternative fulfilment (allowing customers to collect items at a partner retailer or a locker – CollectPlus, for example) and making sure the collection process is as smooth as possible. It’s important not to bolt click and collect onto existing departments – a number of retailers have added it to their customer service desk, which inevitably involves queuing and often doesn’t allow for secure parcel storage at the front of the house.

Online ordering in-store

Otherwise known as ‘endless aisle’, this has been shown to increase revenue by one to three percent and secondary purchases by up to 35 percent. Providing sales colleagues with a customer-facing application on a tablet or other mobile device gives them the ability to offer all the benefits of online in-store. Colleagues can offer the customer’s requested product, cross-sell, upsell and make recommendations relevant to their previous online orders, wishlists etc as well as highlight cross-channel promotions and offers. Some companies offer excellent online shopping, utilizing the latest secure technology.

Customers have the freedom to review and find stock online and in other stores, place an order and choose their preferred method of delivery. At busy times of the year, colleagues equipped with the means to find stock, take orders and process payments while on the shop floor can help to reduce queues and maintain sales and service levels.

Single stock view

A study by retail business process experts Martec International revealed that inventory inefficiencies can lead to safety stock margins being 20 percent higher than necessary. Knowing where all of your stock is for ‘my store’, other stores, and online, and making that available to all touchpoints (staff tablets, tills, website, mobile application etc) in a single feed can make a measurable difference to stock management efficiency. Retailers can build on this with the ability to order or reserve stock from any touchpoint to any touchpoint.

Single customer view

Personalisation and marketing specialist Monetate says that 40 percent of consumers buy more from retailers who personalise the shopping experience across channels. In its simplest form, this means a persistent basket across online channels, for example website and mobile app. For a true service which connects online with offline, give sales colleagues the ability to pick up this basket in-store, then start to layer on more sophisticated customer analytics and CRM data across the business.

Open systems and APIs

This is the ultimate manifestation of the three points above – joining up systems to enable agile development. If each system in the retail estate requires a separate integration with every other system, it’s very hard to innovate or add new touchpoints – all of the systems become a lot more brittle (a change in one sends ripples across the entire estate) and systems don’t act together logically. Connecting them all into a single ‘hub’ enables rapid development while minimising the impact and risk of change.

Good in–store Wi-Fi

This is more relevant to sales colleagues than customers, though YouGov reports that one in three would like retailers to have free Wi-Fi as standard. Retailers generally have very poor Wi-Fi across the board, despite the fact that so many in-store digital initiatives rely on it.

Most are aware of the problem but it can be tricky to make the business case for investment without already having a project that warrants good Wi-Fi, resulting in a chicken/egg situation where trials fail because of poor connectivity, leaving no way to prove the value in an upgrade. This is why many in-store digital projects are limited to flagship stores – it’s easy and relatively low in cost to equip one store with superior Wi-Fi or 4G dongles, less so 200.

Ahead of beacons, virtual reality, smart shelves and a multitude of other initiatives which all undoubtedly have a part to play in giving customers an engaging in-store experience, these are the fundamental strategies which must be in place for any retailer with ambitions for the future in a post-channel world.