Omni-Channel Support Transcends Virtual and Brick-and-Mortar Channels
For many of us, it doesn’t seem that long ago that we first heard the phrase “e-commerce” and bought our first item online: usually a book or a CD. In technology years, however, it was eons ago. Amazon today is a retail giant to be reckoned with, and customers routinely engage in purchasing on their mobile devices as well as their desktops.
At the same time, life has become more challenging for brick-and-mortar retailers. One study from data firm ShopperTrak found that the number of consumer visits to retail stores is dropping five percent year over year. Another study from Moody found that annual growth in revenue at the 100 largest retailers has fallen to less than three percent. Smart brick-and-mortar retailers have expanded their e-commerce presence, but this still means it will become increasingly expensive to operate a physical store, and competing with entities that don’t need to pay for storefronts will become difficult.
In a recent article for Business2Community, however, marketing writer Glenn Gow points out that rumors of the death of brick and mortar are greatly exaggerated, and in reality physical stores have simply become just one more channel savvy companies can integrate with their virtual experience. (Witness the success of Apple stores, and Microsoft’s (News Alert) efforts to catch up on that score.) The mix of online and offline channels is giving rise to something that’s referred to as “webrooming,” an offshoot of the decades-old “showrooming.” A recent report by e-commerce research company yStats found that over a half of consumers with Internet access researched products in-store before buying them online in 2014, while an even larger share searched for information online and then purchased an item in-store.
Retailers hoping not to be left behind are combining their virtual and physical store presence with trends such as online ordering with curbside pickup – something BigBox (News – Alert) retailers have been doing for years now and is now showing up as a trend with other retailers. Nordstrom, for example, recently announced a new curbside pickup program for customers. While the department store has offered online ordering and store pickup for years, customers now won’t even need to get out of their cars: they can simply text when they arrive, and a store employee will bring their purchases to their car, according to PYMNTS.com.
Companies hoping to pursue a better omnichannel customer partnership that includes in-store and online channels will need to ensure that its customer support platform is solid at its very foundation. If a company plans to service customers in both virtual and physical realms, it needs to ensure that this information is readily available across channels, so that when customers from the Web site show up at the retail store (or vice versa), the relationship is already known to the support workers. Often, the point of commonality is the mobile browser, which may be the tool that links the online and offline experience (customers seldom go shopping without their smartphones). Retailers should look for solutions that leave no channels blind or siloed, and offer features specifically for virtual/mobile/brick-and-mortar shoppers.
It seems unlikely that retail will ever go away for good: too many people still wish to see and touch goods and services before they purchase them. It need not be an either/or scenario, however: as customers have shown, they are willing to leverage virtual and physical channels to get the best of both.