Creating A Seamless Retail Customer Experience
People have changed the way they shop. Rather than going to the nearest store to research and make a purchase, many will now research online and buy in-store, or vice versa. Moreover, especially with mobile technology becoming more popular, people expect to be able to shop whenever they want and wherever they are. Retailers have little choice but to react to behavior that has already changed, and to consumers who are increasingly intolerant of being told that they must fit in with a seller’s choice of time and location.
In practice, this can mean some major changes for retailers, whose operations are often organized around a physical store network, with separate businesses covering areas such as online and telephone sales. Companies need to reorganize and abolish the distinction between individual business units. Staff incentives and targets need rethinking, so that they take account of wider sales, including online, rather than simply measuring the performance of an individual store or sales channel. And there needs to be investment in information technology (IT), so that all the various platforms are unified from a user’s point of view.
The Economist Intelligence Unit asked retailers and analysts what has been done already, and what needs to be done, to become omnichannel—meaning not just whether retailers are using a variety of sales platforms, from physical stores to online and smartphone apps, but also whether they have joined up the various technologies being used, so that customers enjoy a seamless shopping experience wherever and however they buy. We also separated out the retailers who responded to the global survey to get a snapshot of industry opinion.
Many big retailers are working towards omnichannel, but progress remains modest. The survey found that many retailers have yet to carry out basic steps, such as adapting their websites to mobile apps. Few have hired a person to take overall charge of the customer journey or have unified their customer service across platforms.
Survey respondents blame internal organizational factors rather than technology for the lack of progress towards omnichannel. Reorganizing a company and introducing fresh IT systems to unify the various platforms in use can be expensive and take years. However, there is also fierce internal opposition to store closures, despite rising online sales and excess store capacity.
Omnichannel changes the function of retail stores, and retailers are starting to respond. Consumers increasingly combine different platforms when making a purchase. In response, many retailers are starting to use in-store technology and are using their website to broaden the range of products available in-store.
Online and traditional retail practices are starting to merge. Traditional retailers are joining up online and mobile services with their in-store offering and are developing their websites to offer personalized selections. Online retailers, meanwhile, are starting to launch their own stores and are teaming up with traditional retailers to launch “click and collect” services.