Why omnichannel is the answer to the retail apocalypse

2018 has seen UK retail undergo a catastrophic shakeup, as High Street shops close at an increasing rate, big brands like Toys ‘R’ Us and Maplin go under and others like Prezzo and Carpetright struggle to stay afloat.

It is now a cliche to say that digital has had a big role to play in this potential retail armageddon. Several major market changes, such as the proliferation of mobile devices and Amazon’s meteoric rise to the top of e-commerce and the emergence of omnichannel strategies have all had a fundamental effect on the way retailers behave in a competitive market. Digital transformation means that customer expectations are increasingly higher as products are tailored to their specific needs: but many brands are struggling to provide a consistent, high-quality customer experience from the store to digital that customers now require.

Who survives and who fails will ultimately be determined not just by how well retailers embrace digital, but how they implement an omnichannel strategy that takes into account the fact that consumers don’t just shop through one channel, they shop through many.

So how can retailers ensure that their omnichannel experience exceeds customer expectations? Here are three ways:

Personalise to keep your customers loyal

Omnichannel users are often the most dedicated and important customers, spending 4% more in physical shops and 10% more online than their single channel counterparts. This means that nurturing and growing relationships with them can be more profitable than finding new customers.

The key to this is personalisation. 72% of UK consumers say brands have to actually demonstrate they understand and care about them before they consider purchasing, according to a study by Wunderman and Penn Schoen Berland.

In a multichannel world, however, personalisation is no longer just about product recommendations, it’s about the customer journey. Businesses need to transform the entire customer journey by targeted personalisation that builds a real connection between the consumer and brand.

Improve the effectiveness of your personalisation of efforts by harnessing the power of technology. Leverage beacons and geofencing technology to ensure relevant and timely information is given to customers when they’re physically close to retail establishments; tie customer preferences automatically to accounts so that customers see consistent, personalised recommendations across online platforms and advertisements; ensure that quality assurance (QA) teams assess pricing consistency across physical and online channels via automation tools or crowdsourced testing; and offer targeted loyalty programs to reward and add value to returning customers and drive engagement.

Use technology in the right way

Since consumers are becoming increasingly demanding of both speed without sacrificing quality, retailers must focus on getting their digital offerings into the hands of consumers faster with limited friction in the customer experience. The best way to do this? Technology.

Take Amazon, which used tech to transform itself from an online-only bookseller into a retail behemoth. Amazon makes it simple for customers to buy products no matter where they shop: online, on mobile, via voice command using Amazon Alexa, through checkout-free stores, even through ‘dash’ buttons, where users order their favourite products with just the push of a button.

While Amazon may have made a success of betting on technology, retailers shouldn’t invest in new technology just for the sake of it. Technological advancements can enhance the brand experience, but if used unwisely they can cause unwanted issues. Practically, large-scale technological investment also brings a host of operational challenges. This means that before making significant changes to their teams, brands should put real thought into the right technologies.

How? Retailers need to get feedback from customers early and often. One simple miscalculation or minor glitch from the outset can drive customers away and create a serious barrier in the long term.  Targeted crowdtesting at an early stage can give insights into how customers will use new technologies and what they might struggle with.

Put quality first

Digital performance issues, which affect the customer experience, and revenue streams, lose e-commerce professionals 12.5 hours a week - that’s 652 lost hours of work per worker per year.

Why so much time? It’s simple: if digital quality isn’t good enough, customers will not spend either their time or their money on your brand. In fact, 60% of consumers say a bad website or app experience would cause them to be less loyal to a brand.

To prevent this, retailers need to implement a robust QA strategy to ensure they are meeting the high-quality standards for software. Every single consumer device needs to work seamlessly - and that can be a hard ask when there are 45,000 device combinations on the market.

Retailers looking to effectively test quality need to make use of a combination of test automation, traditional QA and crowdtesting to cover all consumer touchpoints ensure that all consumer touch points are fully tested and ready for the eyes of the public.

Too many brands are failing to realise that single-channel shoppers are a dying breed and this is leading to their doom. Retailers need to understand that omnichannel is the new normal and tailor their strategies accordingly by improving personalisation, incorporating technology in the correctly, and putting quality on a pedestal. And the easiest way to make sure this all goes seamlessly? Testing.

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