Enabling fulfillment is the key to cross-channel retailing success.
In Chicago last month, I had an hour to spend with two of the industry's preeminent experts on cross-channel retailing: David Gully, principal at Deloitte, and Jim Bengier, global retail industry executive at Sterling Commerce. In that hour, we took a deep dive into many of the 'moving parts' that comprise cross-channel retailing, but fulfillment was the theme that rose to the surface.
If ever there was a case for integration, the consumer demand for seamless cross-channel shopping experiences presents one. The number of touch points retailers have with consumers is increasing rapidly, leading us to the point where, as consumers, we expect a consistent and differentiated experience regardless of channel. For many retailers, the first step toward this consistency of experience — from stores to the Web to the phone to the catalog to the kiosk to the PDA — was consistency of brand presentation and marketing. I wrote about that a year ago, and Bengier challenged me on it. "Fulfillment," he said, "is the ultimate brand differentiator." He's right, and Gully corroborated the point when we all sat down to talk last month. For their parts, Sterling Commerce and Deloitte are working with a number of to-remain-unnamed high-profile retailers on next-generation cross-channel initiatives. By next-generation, I mean initiatives that build on the 'buy online, pick up in store' mentality that set the pace of cross-channel retailing to date.
Virtual, Endless Aisles
If the consumer expectation is seamlessness of shopping experience, then fulfillment of their desires is the answer to meeting the requirements of their expectations. The population segment demanding this seamlessness is growing. According to Forrester Research, 20% of all 2007 retail sales were influenced by cross-channel initiatives, and by 2012 that number will inflate to 38%. If anything, I think that prediction might be conservative, and here's why. When I asked Gully how the cross-channel shopping influence can possibly be measured, his broad grin was telling that I had asked a million-dollar question. He said it's hard, and getting harder, to measure. Today, cross-channel shopping is largely a conscious choice. Consumers choose to research online and buy in stores, or vice versa. But as the technology that enables cross-channel messaging and fulfillment (i.e. personal electronic devices, kiosks, digital signage, Web, print, TV) increases and becomes more sophisticated, the touch points a retailer can control will become pervasive. When those touch points become widespread — and they quickly are — the cross-channel influence becomes hard to measure because that influence becomes subconscious to the consumer.
On The Web: Best Practices In Enabling The Multichannel Consumer.
Retailers have an opportunity to increase customer satisfaction, loyalty, and ultimately share of wallet by delivering a seamless shopping experience. The opportunity comes from leveraging all your channels to create a virtual, endless aisle that will give the customer what they want, when they want it, delivered how they want it.
Fulfillment comes back into play where the consumer's consistent brand experience parlays into the expectation of a consistent delivery experience, what some are calling the 'last mile' of the retail supply chain. And that's the transaction that counts most, because consistency of merchandise availability, regardless of shopping and fulfillment channel, is what creates consistency of shopping behavior.