Cross-channel integration is imperative to preserving your multichannel image.
The fact that it’s difficult to eliminate inventory and marketing disparity among store, catalog, and online channels is not lost on me. But consumers have come to expect a high degree of uniformity from one retail channel to the next, which is why you can’t ignore the pain that comes with at least attempting to meet this expectation. The cost and complexity of creating a completely unified multichannel operation, including a central inventory repository and a cohesive approach to promotions, is great (in fact, often prohibitive for many retailers). But the notion of a seamless marketing approach from one channel to the next is not so daunting. If your Web presence doesn’t match the look and feel of your stores, if your catalog promotions fall out of synch with your store promotions, or worst of all, if your culture is muddled from one sales channel to the next, you’re a multichannel retailer with a cross-channel image problem. You’re probably losing sales as a result.
Consumer Expectations Drive Multichannel Trends
Consumers have come to expect, at a minimum, the same branding effort and special promotions from all channels. When they get this, they respond by spending more. Jupiter Research says brand-loyal consumers – those who shop at the same banner whether shopping online or at a brick-and-mortar store – spend 14% more annually than consumers who shop via only one channel.
Jupiter also predicts that by 2009, 41% of all U.S. retail purchases will either be made online or be influenced by online experiences. In my opinion, the bulk of those purchases will fall into the latter category, partially due to consumer preference and partially due to necessity because online product availability simply doesn’t yet match that of stores. But consumer demand will change that and force retailers to get better at building and managing cross-channel inventory. The average consumer’s perception that online retailing is easier than brick-and-mortar operations leads to the expectation that everything sold in stores should be available for purchase online. But blending the systems and data that run each channel to this extent is difficult, expensive, and best achieved over time. Work toward it, and try to avoid adopting channel-specific solutions that won’t accommodate inevitable channel convergence.
Meanwhile, focus on your multichannel image, seek uniformity in presentation and promotion across all channels, and meet your consumers’ channel preferences. Remember that online shoppers are online shoppers, brick-and-mortar shoppers are brick-and-mortar shoppers, and dissuading a consumer from his or her preferred channel is generally a bad idea. Meet your customers’ terms on your turf – whether that turf comes in print, brick-and-mortar, or cyberspace form.