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Developing an omni-channel strategy that puts the customer first

star_omnichannel_posThe buzzword ‘omni-channel’ has been much discussed and possibly overused.  This article sets out to discuss its true meaning and the implications for retailers.  According to the Megatrends report by real estate advisor Savills, by 2025, 20-25% of all retail spend is expected to be generated online. Retailers cannot afford to ignore how the customer and technology are driving change and the impact both will have on future strategy. 

It goes without saying that the customer is becoming far more informed and tech savvy.  Retail has to respond and provide consistent messaging as customers expect a seamless shopping experience across a widening range of connected channels and social platforms.  Added to this, the dynamics of the customer base are changing.  The retailer has to successfully cater to the needs of an ageing population as well as the dynamic young customer who is looking to use every channel possible and is seeking not simply a product, solution or service but an engaging experience. 

Retailers have to satisfy the demands of ‘omni-customers’ who will increasingly alternate between the online and offline world.  With the boundaries of physical and digital shopping blurring, a single brand should deliver a consistent experience across all channels with choice an essential component of this.

Technologies such as augmented reality and virtual reality provide retailers with a range of opportunities to change how customers shop such as allowing them to view how items will look without even visiting a physical store. However, brick and mortar stores still provide the social interaction and a physical dimension to the shopping experience that customers will strive for.  Many customers will want an environment where shopping is an event experience with interactive, highly engaging online and real-world retail environments. Interactive smart mirrors in store that allow the customer to digitally try out clothing are just one example of this type of environment.

These stores will be challenged further as the blurring between in-store and online retailing becomes more pronounced and as online retailers become more visible on the high street.  It is all about combining digital and physical experiences into one and delivering omni-channel experiences at every opportunity and point of brand experience.  Retail physical spaces are likely to reduce in size as in-store online commerce and software becomes more prevalent and provides the customer with extended product choice to deliver a wider array of product and delivery options. 

By enhancing the in-store customer experience, the retailer will capture the customer’s imagination.  Big data and technologies such as near-field communication, geofencing and facial recognition will enable retailers to offer real-time micro-personalisation in stores, tailoring the product offering and retailing experience to purchase history, social media or even the customer’s current mood. 

Social media can be used as a tool to make the customer experience seamless. Customers want and expect to be able to contact organisations via social media channels to share their views and have their questions answered, issues resolved and points of view heard in real time at any time.  Developing relationships with the customer and gathering data from their profile information and engagements can be used to create an omni-channel experience across all channels and social platforms.  However, in order to implement this cross-platform strategy, marketing and social media teams need to be in constant communication.  And it is not only marketing and social media teams that need to communicate effectively. Traditionally independent retail departments will have to work together across the business to effectively collaborate in order to develop a coherent and successful omni-channel strategy and provide a seamless experience.  

Retailers and logistics providers will have to manage much more complex order and distribution channels.  They will need to take advantage of new forms of retail software, overhaul retail software management systems and streamline marketing strategies in line with technological innovation and changing customer demand in order to stay profitable and expand. Retail will increasingly become dominated by effective multi-channel retailers who have adopted new, agile, scalable and highly integrated software systems.  

The evolving retail world will create new challenges and the need to ’futureproof’ the business will take on a new importance.  Mobile technology is a key enabler to purchase and retention.  The widespread adoption of increasingly powerful smartphones will continue to improve the mobile commerce experience.  Responsive ecommerce websites are essential not only for search engine optimisation but also to allow mobile shoppers to browse and purchase with ease. 

The smartphone is expected by customers to be the platform that can support the entire shopping experience, from product search to comparisons, recommendations through to payment and receipting. Offering digital receipts and using tools that allow cloud technology to be fully exploited are further examples of how the store can become more digitally focused.  

Solutions such as the versatile HI X Connect interface from Star with Star CloudPRNT™ technology provide intelligent printing for cloud applications and unparalleled flexibility for remote receipt and order printing.  Enabling remote printing directly and securely from the retailer’s web server to printers anywhere in the world without complicated network configurations, CloudPRNT is ideal for a range of retail applications including click and collect.

As mobile payments become increasingly commonplace, loyalty programmes and rewards will become smartphone dominated and digital receipts with a loyalty-retention feature will be attractive to customers. Apps such as the AllReceipts™ app from Star offer customers the opportunity to receive and store a digital receipt as well as see what deals, coupons and promotions the retailer has via its Receipt Flip feature. The customer just has to tap on the receipt and the two sided colour receipt not only becomes the proof of transaction but also a means for the customer to know the latest news from their chosen stores. 

To enhance direct communication with the customer, the retailer has the opportunity to upload full colour promotions to the customer’s smartphone with the option to change these as and when required without cost. In contrast to being interrupted by marketing emails, the customer has full control to search coupons in their catalogue of past purchases.  And, with the Engage NOW tool that is secure and easily customizable, retailers can link their logo on the AllReceipts App on the customer’s smartphone to their choice of web page providing a highly personal customer connection.

And, unlike e-receipts where the customer has to provide personal email details, QR code receipts are designed to be anonymous , secure and non-intrusive; an attractive feature given that customers are concerned about their personal information and trust retailers more who are less invasive. 

For the retailer, there are a number of benefits. The Instant Customer Satisfaction Survey feature provides real-time feedback from customers. When claiming a digital receipt in the AllReceipts app, customers are prompted to provide feedback on their experience, which is relayed to the retailer’s dashboard. This allows the retailer to see how many customers have claimed receipts and the satisfaction level of the service received.

Beyond enhanced engagement with the customer, the retailer can profit from a number of free-of-charge device management tools, providing access to the real time status across the installed base of printers including different locations with refreshed error status notification on the comprehensive cloud-based dashboard.

Within an omni-channel strategy the potential of beacons cannot be underestimated as a means of reaching customers with relevant, timely and engaging content regardless of location.  And by using predictive analytics to look at the customer’s digital footprint across web and mobile, retailers can gain an understanding of current actions as well as predict future actions based on habits and trends in order to deliver the right content to the right customer at the right time.

The IoT unlocks a lot of potential synergy with other technologies to provide new kinds of apps that offer in-store enhancements both for customers and the retailer.  Such apps can explore fully the potential of offering new mobile experiences to leverage omni-channel facility at all stages of the customer experience; acquiring, engaging and retaining customers.

In summary, as new connected technologies are changing the way customers shop retail needs to be prepared to change traditional systems, procedures, processes and ways of communicating.  This has to involve greater unity across internal departments as well as with external providers, alongside embracing technology to maintain a competitive edge, enhance customer experiences and in turn drive business growth. Adopting these practices will be essential to creating an omni-channel strategy that puts the customer first.