Magazine Article | December 18, 2012

Omni-Channel Customer Strategy: More Sales, Better Service, Stronger Relationships

January 2013 Integrated Solutions For Retailers

By Jerry McNerney, senior director of enterprise marketing, Motorola Solutions

In order to be truly omni-channel, retailers must embrace mobility and consumer choice.

Today, “channel surfing” has a whole new meaning. Once associated exclusively with the annoying use of a television remote, it now defines how we shop. Before we reach for our wallet to make a purchase, we’ve already accessed retail websites, our social networks, and online product reviews to get information and validate our decision, a task made ever-so-convenient via the smart mobile technology that accompanies us wherever we go. This fundamental change in our behavior has left retailers scrambling to keep up with mobile demands. Developing a solid omni-channel strategy is critical to engaging the mobile-minded consumer and ultimately to increasing sales, delivering more responsive customer service, and building brand loyalty.

The Value Of Choice
As retail customers in the digital age, we demand choices. If I’m not in the mood to venture out to a particular store, I want an easy way to browse and buy online via my laptop or mobile device. When I’m in the store, I expect a similar experience and a knowledgeable sales associate to help me find what I need, answer any questions, and make it easy to complete a purchase. If the product I want is out of stock, I’d like to order it and have it delivered directly to my home. The more channels a retailer offers, the easier my decision to buy. Instant mobile loyalty discounts certainly help too. If the channels all work together — and my expectation is they should — my satisfaction and loyalty grow.

The real power of having an omni-channel customer strategy comes down to creating an efficient and personalized shopping experience. Today’s customers don’t think in terms of POS or mobile POS versus e-commerce versus mobile commerce — they simply expect all aspects of their shopping experience to be available and work together in concert. To win customer loyalty and share of wallet, your strategy should mirror or exceed those expectations.

The Optimal Omni-Channel Approach
The in-store shopping experience continues to drive the most sales for grocery, discount, and hardware segments. While online retail sales are certainly growing and are an important part of the sales mix, recent studies show more than 85% of revenue still funnels through a physical store. Making sure your omni-channel strategy delivers the best possible in-store experience will help keep sales strong.

So what does an optimal omni-channel strategy look like? First, it takes technology. Retailers must incorporate digital technology in-store to mirror the online experience, adding functionality and content to assist in product selection and overall engagement. They should leverage a combination of channels — independently or integrated together — and provide customers access to at least two channels simultaneously. This includes things like providing associates with assisted selling and mobile POS solutions, or pushing instant coupons or new product notifications via mobile applications, while the customer is in the store.

Mobilizing your customer channels begins with a reliable connection: Wi-Fi. Offering guest Wi-Fi gives you the bandwidth to leverage QR codes, offer electronic coupons, and accept mobile payments. Use it to support digital signage, videos, and social media interactions. According to Nikki Baird, managing partner at RSR, the list of minimum requirements retailers need to take full advantage of mobile channels, whether Wi-Fi is incorporated or not, includes filtering or browsing capabilities, transparency of product assortment across channels, ratings and reviews, alternative product views, cross-promotion of channels, and full commerce.

In all channels, the customer experience reigns supreme. While most retailers get that, they are still struggling with the “how.” Recent research from RSR on cross-channel strategies reports that 90% of retailers say it is “very important” to consolidate the customer experience across channels, but only 13% report achieving that consolidation to-date. The reason? It’s not easy. However, everyone recognizes its growing importance.