Deliver the online experience in-store


By Nathan Gower, director ANZ – Boomi
Thursday, 30 March, 2023

Deliver the online experience in-store

Prior to the eCommerce boom that emerged during lockdowns, 68% of Australian shoppers opted for brick and mortar retailing for their non-grocery retail purchases. Now, 50% prefer online shopping channels.

Australians who got comfortable clicking during the pandemic have kept on clicking. But this isn’t heralding the death of the shopfront. Consumers want the best of both worlds, and that means retailers need to extend their digital customer experience and operational efforts to their shops.

It’s about consistency no matter how consumers choose to shop, and this is particularly pertinent with ongoing economic uncertainty and inflation. According to Paul Zahra, CEO at the Australian Retailers Association (ARA), retail’s strong momentum during the pandemic is bound to turn this year — inflation, the rising costs of doing business, supply chain disruptions and staff shortages are proving to be ongoing headaches.

That means retailers need to consider how they’re investing to stabilise consumer sentiment and offset future uncertainty. They can’t expect shoppers to follow by putting all their eggs in one retail basket so to speak — online and in-store operations and service must be equally seamless.

Think about it like this — personalised and automated experiences are core ingredients of the online shopping recipe. Consumers expect online retailers to know everything about them, from their shoe size to the clothing styles they like, and expect the retailer to send items straight to their door. They are also now used to receiving tailored emails with discounts to their favourite items, and information on other new items to consider that would appeal to them personally. However, this digital-native, fast and personalised service is lacking on the shop floor.

When shoppers come in-store looking for specific items, and find that those items are unavailable, they must wait for sales assistants to call around to other stores to locate ‘real-time’ stock availability. Imagine, instead, if shoppers could reserve their favourite pair of shoes on an app and find it sitting in a cart, ready when they arrive in-store.

Coles and Woolworths have done a great job of removing the distinction between in-store and online with their click and collect services. As has the local coffee shop, allowing you to use an app to order your flat white. For others, there’s still some catching up to do.

Another widespread issue experienced by in-store shoppers is the difficulty finding available service staff. The ability to speak directly to a sales representative and get personalised information and advice about products and services is a huge part of why some customers prefer brick and mortar retailing. If I choose to give an electronics store my preferences, it would be ideal if they gave me recommendations while I’m walking the aisles.

While current labour shortages have much to do with this, we can’t discount making the most of the customer service talent already available. Why take staff off the shop floor for out-the-back reporting duties, when you could connect and automate financial reporting, ordering systems, stock management and staff rostering, and allow them to do what they do best with customers?

Consider this — if reporting and admin consumes two hours of a manager’s day, and a cosmetics retailer has 500 national stores, open seven days a week, that’s 7000 manual hours dedicated to processes that could be better automated.

Retail has talked about omnichannel business to solve some of these issues for years, but it hasn’t commonly translated. It raises the question, what is omnichannel retail today if brick and mortar can’t operate in the operationally efficient and personalised, time-for-value way consumers have come to expect online?

Digital technologies prove instrumental in this battle. And according to Gartner, technology spend is accelerating ahead of revenue growth, with its latest findings showing businesses are willing to stump up cash for technology that bolsters business outcomes.

But we are now in a new era; one where retailers will need to do more than simply buy the latest tools — digital platforms are only as good as their ability to communicate with the shopping list of technologies used by retailers.

Australian retailers need their data connected and secure to give sales staff everything they need to make shoppers’ lives easier, and more intentional. With data treated under a hub and spoke approach, accurate information is fed through to customer-facing tech investments, whether it’s an iPad or a mobile POS system. This is a technology framework that mirrors the well-known industry concept, customer fulfilment centres, where stock is centrally warehoused then disbursed to region-wide retail sites.

The end result automates administrative processes and develops a comprehensive understanding of individual customers, which helps to make employees more productive and customer service more impactful, as well as embedding stability in operations — making it invaluable in the current macroeconomic environment.

As consumer wallets tighten and competition heats up, it is time retailers apply their online successes to the shop floor. Connected data will be essential in laying the right foundation for digital practices to be applied in the real world.

Image credit: Somsuk

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