Guest Column | November 29, 2018

5 Steps To Designing A Successful Omni-channel Strategy

By David Dorf, VP Infor Retail

10 Simple Steps To Selecting The Right CMO

In today’s technology-infused world, the ability to connect directly with the customer and create a seamless experience can truly make or break a company. With the rise of digitization and social media, customers expect personalized service tailored to their exact needs, no matter when or where they reach out. In order to increase sales in this ever-changing environment, retailers must focus on acquiring new customers, retaining current customers, and selling more to existing customers. In all three cases, the customer is in control, which is why the most successful retailers will offer their customers more flexible shopping options, personalized interactions and a cohesive experience across all channels.

Most retailers are familiar with BOPIS, the acronym for “Buy Online Pickup In Store”. However, BOPIS only represents one possible journey for the shopper. It is crucial for companies to understand the typical journey of their customers, and then prioritize investments for the greatest return. Not only does this increase overall customer satisfaction, but omni-channel shoppers have a 30 percent higher lifetime value than those that use only one channel.

Here are five basic steps to help design the most effective omni-channel strategy: 

Really Get To Know The Customer

In today’s competitive retail landscape, consumers have come to expect companies to understand their needs and expectations. Many companies already have a general sense on their customers’ preferences. But the best omni-channel strategies start by having a clear idea of not just who the customers are, but where they are located, which platforms they use and the devices they operate on the daily basis.

To build a strategy that supports customer needs, retailers must start by elucidate these exact needs through a combination of data mining tactics and customer surveys. Start by looking for areas of friction that can be removed to enhance the customer experience. Websites analytics and in-store counters can provide supplemental insight into the shopping journey, while Customer Relationship Management (CRM) data can be leveraged to get a sense of demographics, basket sizes, and frequency of purchases. Then, study how levers such as free shipping, sales, and promotions impact behavior. Companies should make sure to create detailed buyer personas that represent their customers to help guide their efforts in marketing, sales, and services.

Plan Your Omni-Channel Paths To Purchase

Taking into consideration the key elements of the customer journey -- from the research stage, to the act of purchasing an item, to the feeling of fulfilment around an order, to the product’s journey to the customer -- it is clear there are a multitude of combinations that constitute the full cycle of the consumer’s journey. However, not all these combinations are a high priority or useful to customers, which is why retailers must identify and prioritize the most impactful paths to purchase.

First, companies must determine the channels that consumers are using for research. While a company’s website is an obvious channel, retailers must also consider mobile, social, and marketplaces. Keeping a pulse on all channels is key to creating a connected journey. Companies that can offer seamless handoffs from these channels to the later stages of the purchasing path will find it easier to retain their customers while winning over new ones. Additionally, keep in mind the channels which actually release the product to the customer. These can include in-store pick-up, different delivery services, or the use of alternate pickup points such as lockers.

Ensure Inventory Visibility

One of the major reasons why retailers struggle to meet customer expectations across all channels is due to the lack of end-to-end inventory visibility. A must-have for a successful omni-channel strategy is accurate inventory visibility, which requires a system that can bring together all inventory data onto a central platform when pools of inventory are siloed across various selling channels, retailers are forced to rely inventory buffers, which can lead to missed sales.

It’s no wonder why retailers are investing significantly into the latest technology solutions to gain supply chain visibility at the lowest levels. Cloud-based solutions can help retailers automatically identify an item from one pool of inventory at the moment of purchase, no matter where the customer is viewing the product. These investments can drastically increase customer satisfaction, while also helping retailers obtain higher fill rates, reduce stockouts and eliminate the need for buffer inventory.

Assess Software Capabilities

To execute the strategy, companies will need to leverage software solutions that have omni-channel features embedded in them. Often, the point of sale, website, order management system, and warehouse systems are outdated and incapable of executing an effective strategy without modification. A key component for omni-channel is the distributed order management software, which is the traffic cop that aligns the channels and facilitates the hand-off between systems. Additionally, integrating business processes and systems across channels can help companies reduce inefficiencies while maximizing their sales.

Equally as important, companies must consider how to best arm their associates with information that helps enhance the customer experience. Associates must have the right digital tools and access to data to create, edit, and monitor orders for customers. The best retailers will turn to software solutions that can help their employees by automating routine tasks, freeing time for them to connect directly with the consumer.

Execute Faster By Planning Better

The most successful omni-channel strategies understand that adopting the latest technologies alone is not enough to sustain long term customer satisfaction in the ever-changing retail landscape. This strategy needs to account for a feedback loop to collect data on effectiveness. Companies must ask themselves: are the selected omni-channel journeys providing the predicted uplift? Are service-levels being met so that customers are not disappointed? Planning to automate processes to increase efficiency and looking for ways to leverage analytics from the start is vital. From assortment planning, to pricing planning, to fulfilment planning, companies will need to constantly reassess their process to ensure continuous improvement and satisfaction persists.

Today, technology is changing customer expectations faster than ever before. Throughout the evolution of these expectations, retailers must create a holistic omni-channel strategy if they want to meet the ever-growing customer standards. By identifying the needs of customers, ensuring supply chain visibility, and taking advantage of the latest software capabilities, retailers will be armed for success when it comes to winning over new and existing customers.