Retailers Must Serve Customers Where They Shop—Everywhere

By now it's a ubiquitous theme in articles and presentations on modern marketing: The key to connecting with coveted millennial customers is through mobile and digital channels. Most progressive business owners accept this reality, but how to connect with today's most valuable customers isn't exactly news; how to connect with tomorrow's customers is.

The successful retailer of the future will create a cross-channel shopping experience that captures the attention of everyone, everywhere, and follows them throughout their shopping journey. An increasingly customer-driven marketplace will demand that retailers smooth out the corners as customers turn left, right, and make U-turns throughout their purchasing path. This trend, referred to as "omnichannel shopping," will prove pivotal to the future of retailers and is quantified and illustrated through recent omnichannel retail and retail satisfaction research from CFI Group.

Omnichannel: Understanding the Drivers and (Potential) Disruptions

Rather than simply having a presence online, the successful retailer of tomorrow will pave a very personal path for customers to follow—from leveraging customer data to inform buyer strategies to tracking customer behavior, delivering relevant messages, and seamlessly solving customer problems regardless of which brand channel they originated in. In other words, it will not suffice for retailers to simply be everywhere. They need to be prepared to be the best everywhere.

The rise of cross-channel shopping behavior among customers and their associated expectations of retailers are detailed in CFI Group's "Omni-Channel Insights April 2014" report. According to the research, virtually everyone is a cross-channel shopper; in fact, 95 percent of customers surveyed reported frequently or occasionally shopping both a retailer's Web site and store.

But with more channels come both more reward and risk; for every additional chance a retailer has to satisfy a customer, there is an equal chance that the cross-channel experience could dilute, or even degrade, the customer's experience with that brand. For example, the report finds that 56 percent of customers will continue shopping with a retailer as long as they receive the best price offered—regardless of channel. Therefore, in an omnichannel world, it will be important for retailers to keep stock and promotions consistent across channels.

Perhaps what customers want to be able to rely upon most is the quality, accuracy, and consistency of information they receive across channels. Surveyed customers revealed that when they asked questions on one channel about the other, 75 percent received incorrect information at least occasionally, if not frequently. Customers expect store associates to be knowledgeable on all channel promotions and, similarly, expect contact center agents to be aware of both in-store and online promotions and offerings.

The study also states clearly that customers have an affinity for omnichannel for the convenience it offers. According to research data, almost all customers want to be able to return online orders to local stores, and the ability to pick up online orders in-store is considered "important" by 78 percent of respondents and "very important" by nearly 50 percent. Implementing omnichannel solutions, such as ship-from-store, in-store pickup, and in-store associate ordering, offers customers the type of retail service they expect—and will require more unilaterally in the future—and boosts revenue for retailers.

Mobile: A Critical Juncture Where Retailers Meet Customer Satisfaction

While an omnichannel approach indicates that retailers serve customers well across all channels—online and offline—mobile has emerged as a platform that profoundly impacts a customer's overall satisfaction with his or her research, browsing, and transactional experience. June's "Retail Satisfaction Barometer 2014" report reveals customers' expectations during the shopping process and provides insights into how much customers are relying upon mobile devices to make shopping simpler and smarter.

The report uncovered that the use of mobile applications for shopping purposes doubled in the past year, with 41 percent of customers actively using mobile apps while shopping. The growing use of mobile is in direct response to customers realizing they no longer have to make purchasing decisions off a hunch; they can leverage data and evidence online to support their shopping experience. And while the study revealed that 67 percent of 18- to 34-year-olds use mobile apps during their shopping experience, Millennials aren't the only demographic using mobile as a retail channel. The research shows that most customers of all ages indicated that they have two to four shopping apps installed on their device.

Showrooming, the practice of visiting a store to examine a product before buying it online at a lower price, is an established trend solidifying mobile's influence. Of those surveyed, 47 percent say their mobile application usage is dedicated to checking product prices at competing retail brands.

Furthermore, the study found that checkout is the most impactful driver of customer satisfaction.

Of the survey respondents, 51 percent indicated they would be very likely to use mobile apps to speed up the checkout process when they become available. Almost half of all participants reported that they would favor a store with advanced mobile capabilities, and many said it would positively impact specific shopping behaviors: 66 percent would shop more with such a retailer, 39 percent would buy more per visit, and 20 percent would even pay slightly more.

Your Store Must Be EverywhereNow, Focus

Omnichannel, while complex, is rewarding. While many retailers have employed multichannel marketing for years, an omnichannel approach requires even more proactive planning and a robust commitment from retail marketing leadership. But rather than a challenge, retailers should seize this trend as a rich opportunity to satisfy tomorrow's customer. Brands should put omnichannel solutions in place today—including increased customer service standards across stores; convenient solutions, such as ship from-store, in-store pickup, and in-store associate ordering; and checkout innovations—to capture the increasingly powerful, cross-channel connected customer of tomorrow.