The average customer journey today may go through three, four, five channels, or even more. But who’s counting? Not consumers – they are not even thinking about channels anymore. For them, convenience and timeliness are what matters. So they’ll browse products, ask questions, make purchases and return products as suits them best in that specific moment.
The profitable omni-channel shopper
Although it’s not easy to keep up with modern consumers’ demands for 24/7, all-channels shopping, it is worth it.
Research shows that customers who shop across channels are more valuable than those who only buy from one channel. According to research by Adyen, the global payment firm, omni-channel shoppers spend 30 percent more per purchase than those who shop using only one channel. Real-life experience confirms these findings. When department store Macy's analyzed its omni-channel shoppers, they discovered that their lifetime value is 8 times higher than single-channel customers.
87% of consumers can’t be wrong
Omni-channel shoppers are worth your while – but you must be able to satisfy their demands. According to the report “The changing customer experience” by retail research firm BRP, there is still a large gap between what consumers expect from retailers and what retailers actually offer. While 87% of customers expect a personalized, consistent experience across all channels, most retailers are not there yet, with 59% saying they are still in the process of building smooth brand experiences across channels.
While retailers are busy trying to modernize their business and truly connect the channels, customers are going on with their lives, browsing, shopping. Businesses that are busy playing catch-up are at constant risk of disappointing and frustrating their customers with their inconsistent, fragmented cross-channel experiences. And if you fail your customers enough times, you might lose them forever.
Here are four of the most common failures that occur when your sales channels are disconnected – and what you can do to fix the problem, pronto.
Failure #1: Your channels can’t communicate.
Picture this: you are a consumer whose dishwasher just broke down. You browse online, find a bargain piece on an e-commerce store, and place an order. The retailer promptly sends you a message, letting you know that the product will be delivered on Tuesday during your preferred time window, between 3 pm and 6 pm. Great!
A few hours later, they send you another message. The machine will be delivered on Tuesday, but between 9 am and 12 pm. As you don’t want to get time off from work, you call the retailer. It all seems settled - until Tuesday. You spend the whole day at home, waiting for a dishwasher that never arrives, with no message from the company. A similar misadventure happened to a customer of Argos, a UK catalog retailer. The retailer blamed a system error, didn’t offer a viable solution, and in the end, the customer simply cancelled the purchase.
The best part? A few days after cancelling the order and leaving negative feedback, the unhappy customer received… an email from Argos asking to leave a review for the dishwasher. Now, that’s what we call a channel disconnect.
The takeaway: When your channels are disconnected, gaps, delays and miscommunication between your delivery services, warehouse, website and customer service become the norm. And as you lack visibility and control over your stock, orders and sales, the one who suffers is the customer. The solution is replacing all the disjointed, badly integrated systems you are using now with a unified commerce system that consolidates all sales channels and all areas of the business within the same platform. When all parts of the business are managed in the same system, you can easily track products, purchases and communications across all channels and locations, and fix problems as they arise, showing your customers you are there to listen, care, and react.
Failure #2: You can’t guarantee real-time stock visibility in the e-commerce site.
One of the most annoying experiences that can happen to an online shopper is to get incorrect stock information. Imagine you have found a fantastic yoga mat on a website, and clicked on “buy one”. The product was marked as “in stock”, and it will be delivered in three days – well in time for your new hatha yoga class next week. You receive a confirmation of your order – and then, two days later, comes an email: “Oops! Sorry, the item you ordered is out of stock. We don’t know if and when it will be back. Thank you for shopping with us!”
As a retailer, once you have sold an item that you don’t actually have in stock, you are left with two scenarios, both inconvenient and unpleasant. You can either:
- a) let the customer know and cancel their order (losing their current business, and possibly their trust)
- b) delay the order until the item is back in stock (risking their patience, trust, and future business).
The takeaway: Once you start selling products you don’t have and won’t be able to deliver, you lose both business and credibility. By switching to a unified commerce platform like LS Central that covers all your channels and updates information in real time, you can ensure that your online store always contains up-to-date product information, including item quantity and even its location. That’s because the e-commerce site, just like the POS in-store, uses the general ledger to pull up real-time stock information, maintaining the inventory up to date across all touchpoints.
Failure #3: Your staff has no way to know what’s available where.
You are in your store, and here comes a customer who’s looking for an oval cast iron casserole dish – preferably orange. As this line of cookware is currently on offer, you have run out of this specific casserole in your store location. “What about the other stores?” the customer asks.
Here’s the moment of truth. Depending on your management system, you could:
1. Call headquarters. Wait for them to call you back. Find out that the dish may still be available in your waterfront mall store. Call the store and check if they still have the casserole, or if they have sold it since the inventory at HQ was last updated 24 hours ago.
- Click a couple of buttons on the POS, see all the store locations where the item is still available, and keep one aside for the customer – or perhaps, order it and have it sent straight to his home address.
The takeaway: Option 1 is a real-life horror story. If it rings familiar to you, your management system is clearly outdated. Modern consumers have no time to waste. They want quick answers, so your staff needs to have all the information at their fingertips. To do that, you need a management system that allows you to check real-time inventory wherever you need to: at the stationary point of sale, in the back office, and at the mobile POS.
Failure #4: You can’t offer across-channels orders, returns and exchanges.
A customer sees a wooden mantel clock advertised on your Facebook page. She goes to your e-commerce store to buy it, but the clock is only available in a specific store which is hours away from the customer’s home. For some reason, it can’t be ordered online or shipped to a different store location. After a quick online search, the customer finds the same item on a competitor’s website; it’s more expensive, but they deliver to her home. She buys it.
Unless you sell one-of-a-kind items that cannot be bought anywhere else, you can’t afford to make shopping hard for your customers. It will lose you their business. Modern shoppers want to order an item on their phone and pick it up in store, when they have time. They want to be able to drop by at one of your physical locations to exchange the too-tight boots they bought on your shopping app. These are common requests, but too many retailers can’t fulfil them.
The takeaway: You worked hard to create a strong brand across physical stores, e-commerce, social media, advertising. When you use the wrong technology, you risk destroying the unified brand image that it took so long to build. Moving to a single technology platform enables you to deliver consistent customer journeys. It simply makes sense.