OPINION: Why omnichannel retailing is so important

Nick Hardy Anagram Systems

Nick Hardy, marketing manager at Anagram Systems, a provider of Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software solutions for small businesses, discusses the importance of looking after omnichannel shoppers, who now capture 70% of UK retail spend.

Believe what you read in the papers and it’s all doom and gloom in the high street, as traditional retailers struggle to compete against online competition.

The reality is rather more complex and businesses that combine a bricks and mortar shopping experience with online and multichannel options – the essence of omnichannel retailing – are now flourishing.

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Research recently published by e-retail expert, IMRG (Interactive Media in Retail Group) reveals that although omnichannel shoppers are still in the minority, accounting for just 18% of consumers, they now capture 70% of UK retail spend.

IMRG data also shows online retail order growth was up 18.2% year-on-year in August this year, and is predicted to increase as more consumers combine online product research with the high street shopping experience.

The growth in the use of smartphones, especially by younger, digitally aware consumers is fundamentally changing the retail landscape. The consumer is now very much in control, moving between online and in-store shopping with ease, choosing whatever option is most convenient for them at the time.

For instance, a prospective shopper may begin researching an item online, exploring different options in terms of availability and delivery. During her lunch-hour, she decides to visit a shop to try on a garment and to see if the look and feel is true to the website description. She may decide to buy the product there and then – if it’s available – or decide to make the purchase online.

The customer journey can therefore begin and end in completely different places and retailers need to be able to accommodate all possible eventualities if they are to successfully deliver an omnichannel shopping experience.

Availability is key. More than 80% of shoppers will leave a shop if the product they want is unavailable. As a result, many retailers are now equipping their in-store staff with internet enabled devices so that if an item is out of stock, it can be ordered online (and on the spot) from the company’s main warehouse.

Publishing real-time information about product availability is central to the omnichannel shopping experience and stock numbers need to be accurate at all times.

A customer who visits a shop to view or buy an item because the retailer’s website says it is in stock only to find that it’s not expected in for another week is going to be disappointed at the very least.

There’s a strong likelihood that she never returns to the shop and may also choose to talk about her negative experience on social media. Wouldn’t you?

In a similar scenario, a customer who makes an online purchase as the product was advertised as available and then receives an apologetic email advising her that this isn’t actually the case is going to be disappointed too.

It’s important that retailers who are in the process of developing an omnichannel strategy think very carefully about the marketing and business management technology they need to achieve their goals and meet customers’ requirements.

The exponential rise of social media means that there are now more channels than ever before that a retailer can use to promote their products and encourage people to visit their bricks and mortar shop.

Setting up a website equipped with shopping cart functionality is also straightforward and cost effective – even for many smaller retailers. Establishing a presence on channels such as eBay and Amazon can be done in an afternoon.

Although establishing these digital marketing channels is straightforward enough, retailers must ensure they can actually supply and deliver the products they are advertising and this requires careful planning.

These days many retailers use a combination of Electronic Point of Sale (EPOS) terminals, accounting software, Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems alongside spreadsheets to manage and record transactions, inventory data and customer information.

A potential pitfall with using multiple systems, however, is that unless they are fully integrated, the information they hold can vary in terms of accuracy and this can cause problems.

For example, if a staff member fails to update stock level information on the company’s website following a sale, or forgets to record the fact that a customer will be picking up a particular item in store on a specific date, then systems can quickly become out of kilter – and customer services can suffer as a consequence.

To mitigate against these problems, many retailers are adopting more sophisticated retail management systems that are designed to centralise all business data in a single place. These systems are designed to improve the flow of accurate, up-to-date customer data between different users and departments within a business.

This approach is central to minimising the mistakes that are common in businesses which use multiple software systems and ensuring that all orders and customer enquiries are recorded and managed quickly and accurately.

Modern retail management software like Encore from Anagram Systems enable real time integration between a retailer’s EPOS terminal, the company’s website and the back office. If an item is purchased online, the stock level is adjusted automatically with no need for manual data entry.

Store personnel can see accurate stock numbers when they conduct a product enquiry and online shoppers see the same numbers when they are researching a product on the retailer’s website.

Online and offline orders can be managed and despatched easily and as company accounts are updated automatically following each transaction, it’s very difficult for information to be forgotten or overlooked. This is essential in terms of the ‘joined up’ shopping experience that is taken for granted by so many consumers.

Omnichannel shopping has already transformed retail forever and it can breathe new life into high street stores of every size if business managers embrace modern retail technology.

Although it’s larger retailers who have initially led the charge in terms of adopting an omnichannel strategy, the good news for smaller retailers is that they are often more agile than their larger competitors and can make changes to internal processes, introducing new technologies in a short space of time.

This agility combined with more affordable business management systems means small businesses are able to implement an omnichannel strategy very quickly. Consequently, they are able to grow their market share and compete against much larger businesses.

Further information about Encore and Anagram Systems is available from the company’s website: www.anagramsystems.co.uk

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