This article was originally published in the Winter 2018 issue of The Record. Subscribe for FREE here to get the next issue delivered directly to your inbox.
Millennials are digitally connected, savvy online shoppers, but does that mean they are abandoning brick-and-mortar retail stores? News headlines consistently report retail store closures or bankruptcies, so it would be easy to conclude that they have indeed abandoned the traditional retail store for digital shopping. However, this is a misconception. While online and mobile channels are important to millennials, they still want to shop in brick-and-mortar stores.
There are several issues that have the potential to impact millennials’ in-store experiences and therefore lower their brand loyalty. One consistent issue is that engaging with an uninformed store associate presents a negative experience and most shoppers believe they are now more knowledgeable about products than store employees. In fact, a 2017 survey by Tulip found that 83% of shoppers believe they know more than store associates because they use digital channels to research product information, pricing and inventory availability before going to the store.
In addition, the survey found that 79% of shoppers think knowledgeable store associates are important. Hence, retailers must arm their associates with the right tools to access information needed to engage with shoppers. At a minimum this needs to be the same information shoppers have access to.
Retailers have been making improvements regarding product, price and inventory information but this is not the only data that will help them better engage with customers when they visit a store. Shoppers know that retailers are capturing information about them through loyalty programmes, previous purchases and interactions on their digital channels, so they expect sales associates to use this information to provide a better in-store experience.
That’s why retailers need to equip their associates with purpose-built applications that not only offer insights into product information, but also previous purchases or interactions. Too often marketing interactions for offers and promotions have taken place, but the associate is unaware and cannot use them to engage customers in store. Having access to customer attributes for preferences, wish list items that have been captured on e-commerce sites and previous sales history can help retail associates to improve customer experiences.
Now that the in-store shopping experience is no longer an isolated interaction and the lines between digital and physical are blurred, retailers recognise that omnichannel is critical to their success. As digital continues to expand, retailers need to extend that omnichannel journey in store.
Retailers who have attempted to implement an omnichannel strategy are often dissatisfied with execution and progress. There are typical reasons why they are not able to execute successfully. The first is that there are too many disparate systems that are impeding a seamless omnichannel experience. Before considering features and functions required in a business application, retailers need to determine how the data is to be exchanged or accessed. Moving data from one system to another is fraught with challenges because data structures may differ and integration tools can be cumbersome to manage and support. To provide a seamless experience, retailers must first consider the foundation for how data will be accessed and define a common data model.
Another challenge is empowering store associates with the ability to continue the omnichannel journey. Too many retailers consider the omnichannel journey as enabling customers to buy online and pick up in store, or buy online and return to a store, but it involves so much more. Store associates need to be able to extend the omnichannel experience from within the store. Many retailers encourage customers to go online if the item cannot be found in store, but associates should be able to instantly help the customer to find the item and initiate an omnichannel transaction to buy in store and ship to the customer. By doing this, the in-store experience becomes part of the seamless shopping journey.
Empowering store associates with tools to personalise customer interactions allows retailers to easily meet customer expectations in store and online. More importantly, when associates show a deep understanding of their priorities and preferences, customers feel more loyal to the brand and are more likely to engage.
Randy Davidson is a senior solutions architect for Microsoft Dynamics at DXC Technology
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