OPINION: Claire Franks on omni-channel retailing

Lingerie and swimwear business guru Claire Franks, founder of Intimate Apparel Consultancy, offers her regular insight into lingerie retail, fitting and design.

People are talking more and more about the omni-channel approach to retailing, but what is it? Actually, it’s what some retailers like Oasis, American Eagle and Gap have been doing rather well for some time.

Quite simply, the omni-channel approach allows the consumer to use all available channels at the same time. It permits retailers to track consumers and learn more about their shopping habits and demands so they can target and supply this consumer more effectively. Think of it as one business that allows you to reach your customers at anytime, in any place.

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To put this business method into practice, big retailers are implementing specialised software to integrate and manage customer information databases across all channels, making marketing far more efficient and effective, with offers that are relative to specific consumers. These offers are determined by purchase patterns, social network affinities, website visits, loyalty programmes, and other data-mining techniques.

Omni-channel retailing also enables the retailer to connect directly with each consumer and target them with promotions and offers that they know they will be interested in.

Financial requirements

Now, all this sounds rather exciting, but in order to shift to omni-channel retailing, retailers must first invest a lot of time and money into making it work – two things that a lot of small businesses don’t have in current trading conditions.

Not only do you need to invest in real-time data, but the communication between your IT, marketing, and sales staff will need to be strong and clear in order to succeed.

According to Richard Traish, senior partner at Kurt Salmon, the global retail and consumer goods consultancy, retailers are handicapped in providing a seamless shopping experience for the consumer because very few have integrated customer information databases across all channels.

“The technology is now available to take raw data from any number of databases and use modern integration techniques to create a single customer view in just a few weeks. This information can then be used to see how customers behave at every touch point and to build customer journey profiles by customer type. It can also be enriched by cross-checking it against external databases to identify synergies and additional selling opportunities,” he said in a recent article.

Interacting with your customers

We need to fully appreciate that today’s modern customer is very well connected and informed via the internet and therefore, from your point of view, easily reached. As a retailer, you have so many ways of finding her, talking to her, educating her and making her your best friend. By being part of her everyday life you will always be on her mind, and on her hand-held device.

This new digital-savvy customer first researches products and brands online, before entering a physical store. By the time she enters your shop, she is already very well informed and expects your in-store staff to be highly trained and knowledgeable in the products they are selling and fitting.

Getting started

First, you must be trading seamlessly between your bricks and mortar and online business, as in-store sales are heavily influenced by online searches.

A customer database of shopping habits and likes and dislikes must be kept and used to help plan and target effective promotional events. Once you have this in place, you can then consider building on exciting and different ways of engaging your customer and keeping her interested in what you are doing.

How about adding a virtual showroom online, where customers can view images of this season’s collections and watch video fitting guides? How about creating QR (Quick Response) codes and placing them on scanable shelf displays so your customers can find out more about a particular product or watch videos about your stock online, while they shop in store? These three-dimensional barcodes can also be placed on related gift cards and promotional leaflets.

Use Twitter and Facebook to inform your consumers of the latest lines, brands and promotions you have. You need to keep her interest and become part of her everyday life, so when she wants to treat herself, buy a gift, or replace her tired underwear, hosiery or swimwear, she will think of you.

Ideally, she will regularly research online to view your latest products, place her order when commuting to and from work, and pick up her pre-paid and beautifully pre-wrapped purchase as she passes your door. Or, maybe, you have delivered it to her already.

Don’t forget that today’s consumers are very well connected, smart and demanding. If you can’t supply her with what she needs then she only needs a few minutes to find someone who can.

Who are omnichannel customers?

Surprisingly, the omni-channel customer base is extremely diverse. Those in the 30 to 50 year-old age bracket are affluent, well connected and home-orientated, while those under 30 are mobile shoppers who are constantly on the move. Finally, there is the social networker, who crosses all age groups.

How can we benefit from omnichannel retailing?

Research has shown that omnichannel consumers exhibit strong loyalty to their preferred retailers and brands, and regularly influence their fellow consumers to buy products from them through word of mouth and social media.

So by integrating your systems and rethinking how you trade, ask yourself this, could your lingerie business take advantage of omni-channel retailing?



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