With over half of all in-store purchases influenced by digital, a new generation of consumers demands accurate, consistent information across multiple channels. Consumers consult product information on multiple channels almost simultaneously via their mobile devices, laptops, in-store and on social media. With an astonishing decrease of up to 80% in online conversions occurring when brands are inconsistent across channels, retailers are looking to move from a multichannel strategy to a focus on agile commerce, something which Forrester Research once described as “multi-channel done right”.
Embracing the Channel-Less Consumer
Regardless of whether she is visiting a physical store, browsing from her laptop at work or in the airport with her eyes glued to her mobile device, the modern consumer expects a consistent, integrated experience across channels. She also expects easy access to local in-store product availability on digital channels. When she does arrive at her local store, she doesn’t want to spend time hunting for the perfect pair of shoes she already found online – she wants to find them waiting for her, to quickly try on and be ready to be taken home.
If you think the modern consumer sounds not only demanding, but impossible to please – you aren’t incorrect, but it’s also beside the point. In a world where customers have nearly infinite choices and 86% have indicated the willingness to pay more for a better shopping experience, retailers must be relentless in their quest to deliver exceptional experiences that incorporate the best of the physical and digital worlds.
Let’s consider digital channels, which allow for round-the-clock shopping, an expanded assortment and the ability to buy in the convenience of one’s home. While consumers appreciate these attributes, they likely miss some of the benefits they would typically receive in-store – for example, a friendly store associate to help shoppers find what they need, the ability to try on an outfit and immediate access to their purchases.
To solve for the store associate, smart retailers are using technology to offer personalized recommendations; we know this matters to consumers because 56% of consumers are more likely to buy from stores which address them by name and 58% make a purchase due to personalized recommendations. As for the dressing room, rich product content and images, along with product reviews that give crowdsourced opinions on sizing can help online consumers get a sense of what products look like and how they might fit. To underscore this, according to a recent Forrester study, 70% of US online adults say that it’s important for retailers to offer them product visualization tools that help them see color swatches and alternative views through different images and zoom. Finally, when it comes to instant purchase access, offering online buyers easy access to inventory availability in local stores, coupled with programs that allow consumers to buy online and pick up in-store, can help today’s consumers get the instant gratification they crave.
Retailers Embracing Agile Commerce
While no retailer has created an experience that completely integrates the best of the online and offline worlds, a few retailers are making significant strides.
Nordstrom, a 116-year-old retailer, has long been known for being a timeless customer-service powerhouse with careful hiring practices and excellent in-store staff. Today, they are looking to replicate that experience in ways that will resonate with a new breed of customers, describing themselves as “Customer Obsessed and Digitally Enabled.” It does not hurt that Nordstrom’s headquarters sits just a few miles away from Amazon, a proximity no-doubt influencing innovation.
For the digital buyer who craves instant gratification, Nordstrom was early to offer the purchase online, pick up in-store “clicks to bricks” option. “Today, one-third of all new Nordstrom customers come through its website”, according to Robert Spector, “and more than 25 percent of Nordstrom.com orders are fulfilled in the stores. Essentially all of the stores serve as warehouses for the online business.”
Nordstrom was also the pioneer of the ask-no-questions return policy, so it is not a surprise that the company would innovate in this area too. With industry-wide, e-commerce returns usually higher than in-store, Nordstrom offers an app called Reserve & Try that enables a customer to select and reserve items online without having to pay upfront. Customers then have a 2-hour window to try-on items in-store without the financial and logistical hassle of returns.
Then there are the new concept/pop-up shops. In Los Angeles, Nordstrom allows consumers the ability to browse in-store and then buy online. This concept store offers manicures on-site but sells no clothing at all – if consumers like what they see they can place a digital order, allowing the retailer to keep the store small and uncluttered while still consistently having the right sizes in stock.
Nordstrom continues to work to increase the number of multichannel customers because those customers spend four times as much as a one-channel shopper. Beyond Nordstrom, there is strong evidence to support that shoppers who use multiple channels are more valuable. A recent Criteo survey found that omnichannel shoppers worldwide represented just 7% of all consumers-, but these consumers represented 27% of all sales.
For Amazon, an e-commerce giant that “pre-Whole Foods” had a nominal brick and mortar presence, filling the gaps in their digital offering required some creativity around how to best bring the dressing room experience into the home of the consumer. One option, Prime Wardrobe, allows consumers to order up to 10 items of clothing to try on at home and only pay for those they decide to keep, and another, Echo Look, provides consumers with an artificial intelligence powered shopping assistant to help them look their best.
Achieving Agility is No Easy Feat
Today’s retailers are managing more products, partnerships, channels, and brands than ever before. What makes this even more challenging is that unlike the physical supply chain, the digital supply network is nonlinear, requiring numerous back and forth interactions between retailers, suppliers, channels, and partners. The emergence of large players, like Forever 21 and Zara, which specialize in fast fashion, has further accelerated market trends by making consumers hungry for a constant influx of new products and shortening the product lifecycle.
The difficulties of managing a network that is both larger and more asynchronous are exacerbated by the challenges of bringing products to market faster than ever before. To address this, retailers need to look to new technologies that empower them to integrate multiple data sources into a centralized hub; collaborate to produce rich, customized product content; and deliver accurate information to an array of partners, channels, and customers.