Meeting the rising expectations of customers

Over recent years we have seen retail transform into a place where digital and mobile platforms lead the way. What was once a small part of the industry has grown into something consumers, and retailers, can no longer live without. As a result, consumers can now choose the shopping experience they prefer – whether it’s through their mobile device, online or in-store.

According to recent research from Fujitsu, online shopping is one of the most valued (63 per cent) and most used (66 per cent) digital services, with one in four consumers always choosing a digital option if available when it comes to retail. It is clear that this industry understands the impact of digital and how it can take advantage of it for their customers. But to support this, digital capabilities must be afforded to retail staff. There is little point having a fantastic multi-channel consumer offering if staff are unable to use the same innovative technologies to provide the best possible service.

Fujitsu decided to find out if retailers are using digital to empower their employees by identifying the omnichannel capabilities of six well-known UK retail brands. It would be natural to think these retail heavyweights are pioneering the way, setting a ‘gold standard’ for omnichannel service excellence. But while a brand name may draw in customers, it is the in-store shopping experience that has the potential to turn them away. The research looked into three key areas.

Firstly, it looked at how retailers responded when asked for extra information from customers. The results showed that PC and internet usage was quite high, with 89 per cent of staff using a computer to check those extra details. With retailers using PCs and internet services to compensate for additional information, there is a high potential for stores not relying on proper omnichannel solutions to be at a disadvantage and lose out on sales because the right information is not available where and when it is needed.

The second part of this research involved the availability of products – are retail staff able to take advantage of omnichannel capabilities to ‘save the sale’? Real-time, enterprise-wide visibility of inventory is a key pillar of omnichannel retailing and to be able to save the sale, employees need to be able to confirm stock is available across channels, place an order and ensure fast and accurate fulfilment. The research revealed that only 50 per cent of store associates could find out inventory levels of an item at another store, while only 20 per cent could check on availability at a nominated store near to the customer’s home. As staff were not aware of the test shopping, it’s likely some of them had no interest to find out this additional information. When it came to arranging delivery, employees could only arrange delivery to a nearby store in half of instances. As a result of this, half of sales were lost because of an inability to see whether inventory was available in another store, and 20 per cent of sales were lost because staff simply didn’t have the capabilities to arrange shipping.

Finally, the research examined delivery. With many consumers leading busy lives, they need certainty that a product is going to come at the right time, in the right place and at the right price. Among the best performing retailers, employees were able to provide information on delivery times in 95 per cent of cases – which is a good result.

So what does all this mean? As leading retail brands continue to embrace omnichannel strategies to win and retain customers, shopper expectations are rising. But, for some stores, their omnichannel strategy stops a little short of an end-to-end service because store associates are unable to deliver the timely information and service that customers expect. Shoppers can be fickle and any delays can be critical. Finding items, placing orders and arranging delivery must happen quickly before customers change their mind. ‘Saving the sale’ has to be fast and convenient. If this doesn’t happen, then companies may lose significant sales and gain a negative reputation for trust, reliability and customer service.

How can retailers keep up with the pace of retail today? It’s clear that retail brands must get real-time, accurate data into the hands of store associates as soon as possible. But care needs to be taken when choosing omnichannel solutions. Speed, efficiency and ease are made possible by providing information in a single digital interface that each staff member knows, understands and uses regularly. The technology’s ease of use is one element, but regular in-store staff training is equally important.

Retail is fast moving and can be complex, so it’s essential that a multi-channel solution has the ability to evolve and respond to every change – and keep ahead of expectations. Having a great retail brand is a massive advantage and employing excellent staff gives you an edge. But choosing the right omnichannel solution is equally important for ambitious retailers that want to maximise success.

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